LONDON (AFP) – The British government has stripped a London university of its right to sponsor visas for overseas students, leaving thousands of students facing possible deportation.
London Metropolitan University had its Highly Trusted Status — which allowed it to sponsor visas for students from outside the European Union — revoked by the UK Border Agency on Wednesday over alleged failings in its procedures.
The move means current overseas students have 60 days to enrol on a course elsewhere, with more than 2,000 students facing deportation if they fail to find another university, according to the National Union of Students (NUS).
The union warned of “catastrophic” effects on Britain’s industry for educating students from overseas, which was estimated last year to be worth £14 billion (17.7 billion euros, $22.2 billion).
Almost 300,000 non-EU foreign students were enrolled in Britain in the 2010-11 academic year.
The university said on its website: “The implications of the revocation are hugely significant and far-reaching… Our ABSOLUTE PRIORITY is to our students, both current and prospective, and the University will meet all its obligations to them.”
Immigration minister Damian Green told BBC radio that after an audit lasting six months, the Border Agency found “a serious systemic failure where it appears that the university doesn’t have the capacity to be a proper sponsor”.
He said that a quarter of students there lacked permission to stay in the country, while there was insufficient evidence that students spoke English and no proof that half of those enrolled had been attending lectures.
But he sought to reassure prospective students that “this will not be replicated across the university sector”.
The government had formed a task force to assist current students whose visas are set to be revoked, he added.
The NUS labelled the move political, linking it with promised immigration quotas brought in by Prime Minister David Cameron’s government.
It said it had contacted Cameron to “express anger at the way decisions have been made in recent weeks and to reiterate the potentially catastrophic effects on higher education… as an export industry”.
A Border Agency spokesman said: “The latest audit revealed problems with 61 percent of files randomly sampled. Allowing London Metropolitan University to continue to sponsor and teach international students was not an option.
“These are problems with one university, not the whole sector.”
London Metropolitan is in the top 20 British recruiters of international students, with 6,000 EU and non-EU overseas students in 2010-11, according to government figures.
It said it was working closely with bodies including the Border Agency to try to resolve the problems