How to destroy Britain’s international reputation for higher education

The issue of immigration, with which so many people in Britain are unhealthily obsessed, is right now threatening to inflict significant damage on the country’s higher education system. Under rules adopted over recent years, universities (and other institutions) can recruit and teach international – i.e. non-EU – students if they secure ‘Highly Trusted Sponsor’ status awarded by the UK Border Agency (UKBA). This requires institutions to meet a number of conditions relating to how students are recruited and how they perform, and what measures are taken to monitor them. The bureaucratic complexity of the system can be gleaned here.

It is worth stating in passing that the system is hugely labour-intensive and also places the university in a rather different relationship with its overseas students: not just teaching them, but controlling them and observing (one might say snooping on) their lives. From student feedback, particularly feedback they deliver in their home countries, the UKBA régime is being interpreted as showing hostility by Britain to international students. Even without the events described below, this has visibly damaged efforts to recruit such students, and this in turn has had a direct financial, and of course educational, impact. It is, to be frank, complete lunacy; though of course all universities have no option but to follow the rules.

And now, the UKBA has stripped London Metropolitan University (a very large institution) of its ‘Highly Trusted Sponsor’ status, as it was not satisfied with the performance and abilities of some of its overseas students. This has not only resulted in the university being prevented from admitting any new overseas students, but has also placed existing overseas students at risk of deportation unless another, UKBA approved, university can be found for them at very short notice. This is not likely to happen. In the meantime the university has rejected the alleged findings of the UKBA.

The result of this is a major disaster for Britain’s reputation as a destination for international students, and it will affect pretty much all other universities. Moreover it is the kind of disaster from which there can only be a very slow recovery, if that. It is almost impossible to understand how any government body could consider this a good idea. The impact on the UK’s higher education system could well be catastrophic. It is time for the UK government to address this, and to take steps to avoid this calamity.

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17 Comments on “How to destroy Britain’s international reputation for higher education”

  1. Vince Says:

    Is there not an entirely more serious aspect to this. Hasn’t this agency entered into the Royal Prerogative and disestablished the LMU. A university is by nature trusted, isn’t this why it’s called Established. The Charter of Establishment places it well out of the remit of some subsection of the Home Office. So why didn’t the LMU tell this agency to rack off, politely of course.


  2. Thanks for this article. I quite agree that it is highly damaging to the HE section and is provoking a rather nasty conflation between education and immigration. The reactions to the article in the THE are particularly thought provoking and well worth reading through. How the government expects HE to survive, i have no idea.

  3. Steve Button Says:

    From BBC News, “The UKBA says London Metropolitan University had “failed to address serious and systemic failings” identified six months ago.

    Immigration Minister Damian Green said London Metropolitan University had failed in three particular areas:

    More than a quarter of the 101 students sampled were studying at the university when they had no leave to remain in this country
    Some 20 of 50 checked files found “no proper evidence” that the students’ mandatory English levels had been reached
    And some 142 of 250 (57%) sampled records had attendance monitoring issues, which meant it was impossible for the university to know whether students were turning up for classes or not.”

    London Metropolitan University seems to have had more than its fair share of adverse publicity over recent years pointing out numerous failings and if the University has indeed “failed to address serious and systemic failings” then why turn one institutions falings into a major disaster for Britain’s reputation as a destination for international students. It’s certainly bad for London Metropolitan’s reputation.

    Do we do away with any requirement for achieving mandatory English levels, permit non-attendance and have no requirement for a Visa to be here in the first place? I think not.

    • Niall Says:

      In the intersest of fairness compliant students must be able to continue their studies

    • Eddie Says:

      Well said. I do think however that post92s scour the world for their students. Every university-the post92s particularly want to call itself “global university”, and senior management of these universities including VCs, do not get hefty paypackets if they say, “they want to recruit the best, and hence the numbers do not matter in so far as quality of students is maintained and if some departments close, as a result, that is the reality”

  4. James Fryar Says:

    Surely this is an easy problem to solve …

    Why not allow international students into universities, have a ‘graduation ceremony’ for them, but only officially confer their degrees when they meet the immigration requirement that they return home?

  5. Eddie Says:

    As usual the VC looks at only from his point of view of bringing in loads of students from India and other parts of Asia, Africa etc.. where they could not get into their own universities, because of their poor academic background. He is talking nonsense as those of us who know about the problems of this university and others have a different opinion. The 20 hours work/week entitlement should be removed, if they are bringing billions of pounds as fees, they do not need this paltry minimum wage from Tesco. As for these non-EU students, the problem is whether they can be traceable.

    • Eddie Says:

      I should also add that top RG universities have no problems in recruiting the best international students, and these students in large numbers have come in to Imperial and UCL, not to speak of Oxbridge. Their reputation is intact. the best Indian, Chinese and Singapore students know what RG universities are, but it will be the post92s which hoover up those who fail to get into universities in their countries,will suffer. Not a problem as we have too many of these so called universities- some call them modern universities to lure students; whatever they are called, the best students around the globe can distinguish apples from Kiwi fruits!.

      • Eddie Says:

        Just to add again,re: HE reputation. No one knows for example about RGU say in Midlands and down South, or in the rest of the world where top RG universities are so well recognised. . London Met and others have similar recognition problem. Hence I would not worry about the HE reputation at all.

        • Eddie Says:

          ” know I shouldn’t feed the troll, but I do want to ensure that what Eddie passes off as ‘facts’ are not taken as such by others reading this. I do not know, and for these purposes do not much occupy myself with, what happened in London Met”

          Troll? indeed for disagreeing with you when you post an article which is sheer nonsense.

          First ,you used London Met to attack UK immigration. :Your hatred to them goes back to several months, when you attacked the UK immigration and UKBA, for asking RGU to follow a protocol that meant that you have to go through processes to approve RGU as the highly trusted institution for non-EU visa purposes, which you did not like. At that time, you suggested Scotland should have its own immigration department, independence etc..

          Second, to show how deluded you were:/are: the non-EU students that Scottish universities recruit-a large number of them after graduation or even when they drop out head towards England. I bump into Scottish and RGUs,non-EU graduates /MBAs in London and parts of England, as there are a number of them looking for work. Hence what concerns RGU, and other Scottish universities also matters to UKBA and UK immigration as it has effect on England, and other parts of UK too..

          Your self-styed leadership of HE, and about your RG -related pronouncements ( you do not like them having called them as “cartels” before) , shows how much pure rhetoric is there. You say recruitment is left to universities, which means a number of aspects .. I leave it at that. But we know how these Scottish universities fought to get their hands on English students’ fee this year. If they were well funded, then why seek English students?

          Sadly for you, if polls are to be believed, Scots will not vote for independence. Hence SNP to prevent egg on their faces, is interested in DevoMax as a second question, which is opposed in the rest of the UK, and by all UK parties. You have to live with UKBA and UK immigration for a considerable time!

        • Eddie Says:

          RGU VC below: “Come on Eddie, this is nonsense. There is no ‘large funding gap’ in Scotland – unlike England”
          Which mean a medium funding gap? There is funding gap!

          Please refer to THE, 11th August 2011(http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storyCode=417093&sectioncode=26)

          Mike Russell:
          “I believe…an additional £100 million for higher education in Scotland is what we need … to close that gap,” he said. This sum is reached “after you take off various things” such as additional income raised from charging students from the rest of the UK, which the document calculated will raise between £41 million and £74 million.
          Mr Russell stressed the difficulty of calculating the scale of any gap, since it is unclear how the new English market will work in practice”

          Hence Scottish universities fought like alley cats in August to get hold of as many English students , chasing them as hard as possible as they could, because each English student comes bearing a cheque for £9K per year for 3/4 years. so as to raise the millions Mr Russell refers to.

          It appears Australia and Canada .are interested too. Well competition cannot be bad. Australian weather indeed!!!


      • On the contrary, the Russell Group university heads are taking exactly the same view on this as I am. And they face the same fall-out, as they’ll tell you. Possibly more, as some of them rely more on international students than we do.

        • Eddie Says:

          The RG universities do not scour the students the same way all over the world. Anyway, I feel that our universities are too many and we should cut down their numbers and their size.

          • Eddie Says:

            I should add, unlike scotland, English students, bring in £9K tuition fee/year. It is Scottish universities who were haggling for English students (some dropping their entry requirements as they were speaking to students to get them in for their fees)+ non-EU students to fill in their large funding gap.


          • Come on Eddie, this is nonsense. There is no ‘large funding gap’ in Scotland – unlike England – and no Scottish university has dropped its entry requirements for English students.

          • Eddie Says:

            “Come on Eddie, this is nonsense. There is no ‘large funding gap’ in Scotland – unlike England – and no Scottish university has dropped its entry requirements for English students.”

            You are talking nonsense the same way you are talking nonsense in this article. It may be a news to you that Scottish universities bent over backwards to get the 9K per year dosh from English students, and in doing so I know in many cases they dropped their entry requirements. Why were they doing this? To help the poor English cousins? To help to get as much dosh as to pay for the hefty pay packets of VC and senior management? There were no caps for English student numbers , we were told in telephone calls. You ask your friend Mr Russell about this why he let them to do this.

            About your article. Let us recall why the UKBA did what it did. According to UKBA:1 One quarter of non-EU students sampled were studying at London Met without leave to remain in the UK. 2, the university could not demonstrate students were regularly attending classes in more than half of cases.

            Prejudice is one thing, and facts are another, let the former not destroy the latter.

            I realise that you do not want dissent, and this will be put on hold!


          • I know I shouldn’t feed the troll, but I do want to ensure that what Eddie passes off as ‘facts’ are not taken as such by others reading this. I do not know, and for these purposes do not much occupy myself with, what happened in London Met. I note that it strongly rejects the allegations, but I have no view on that. Nor do I argue that no steps should be taken if there has been abuse.

            However, what UKBA has done is to undermine the UK as a whole as a destination for higher education, and if anything some of the Russell Group universities will be hardest hit by that (and that is their own judgement also). The prospect of legitimate, compliant students being deported is nothing short of lunacy, but is a real prospect – and more importantly, is being reported as a real prospect in other countries. ‘Don’t study in the UK’ is now a slogan being put about by our competitor countries.

            As for Scotland, English and non-EU international students are outside the public funding envelope and therefore universities can make their own decisions about how many to recruit. But no university has lowered its standards or entry requirements for them.

            The UK economy gets a huge cash boost from international students. It is right to keep a close watch on standards. But what the public agencies are doing as regards immigration and visa rules is madness. And that’s the only message that matters here.


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