Temporary Reprieve for London Metropolitan University

The high court in London has granted a temporary reprieve to current non-EU students at the London Metropolitan University (LMU).

The high court has allowed over 2,000 non-EU students at the university to continue their ongoing courses, while permitting LMU to seek a judicial review of the revocation of its licence by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) on August 29.

Nonetheless, immigration officials said the university’s licence to admit and teach them remains revoked. A UKBA spokesperson said after the court ruling: “London Metropolitan University’s Tier 4 sponsor licence remains revoked. London Metropolitan has failed to get its sponsor status restored and the judge has not granted interim relief”.

“UKBA agreed to allow existing genuine students to continue studying at the university until their course has ended or the end of the academic year, whichever is sooner — as long as they meet the right standards.

“But students who are here illegally and do not meet our immigration criteria will not be allowed to stay,” the spokesperson added.

The UKBA said revoking LMU’s licence was the “right course of action” and that it will continue to fight their challenge at the full hearing.

Friday’s ruling was the start of the legal process and not the actual judicial review, the LMU said, and added that an agreement has been reached to enable existing and new international students about to start their course to do so with the assurance that they will be able to complete their current academic year or their course, whichever is the sooner.

The stance by the UKBA still ultimately threatens thousands of students with deportation, along with the future viability of London Met as a public entity.

Commentators are stating that London Met’s visa curb is at the heart of the government’s market experiment that focuses on creating an education market where private providers can operate and public universities can go bust.

Efforts by the University, staff, students and interested parties have demonstrated that a serious and concerted campaign against the UKBA’s decision is capable of delivering results.

London Met’s position is being seen as test case in the government’s market experiment.

While London Met and the National Union of Students were launching legal battles to keep students at the institution, private colleges have been running open days to take on displaced students. With the Universities Minister, David Willetts offering a compensation scheme for legitimate students, these private colleges are well placed to take on students from London Met.

London Met is already at the heart of the coalition’s experiment, in which massive cuts to public teaching grants are forcing institutions to seek private income streams. Having implemented a 70% cut to its courses in 2011, including the loss of whole departments such as history and philosophy, the university’s management announced last month that it would seek a large-scale privatisation deal – essentially a corporate buyout of much of its central services.

The essential theme of the higher education white paper, much of which is now being brought into effect without a vote in parliament, was the creation of a market – with private providers allowed to operate, and public universities allowed to go to the wall if they cannot make ends meet. The social consequences of this project will be dire: it is precisely the universities that working-class students rely on that will be forced to merge, or even to close entirely.

Like almost all higher education institutions, London Met has come increasingly to rely on international students, whose fees are uncapped. Without this income the university will struggle to survive, and, predictably, the government’s new approach to the crisis does nothing to address the insolvency that London Met faces as a result of the UKBA’s decision. Instead, Willetts is focused on moving London Met’s international students on to other institutions, while “protecting Britain’s reputation” in the global higher education market.

The government’s emphasis on making Britain an appealing destination for international students goes beyond the poor taste of viewing people, and their contributions to academia and society, as cash cows and cogs in a market mechanism. It is also dishonest and cynical: the situation at London Met is in large part a product of an increasingly draconian set of visa and immigration restrictions now being used by the Home Office to “send a message” about “bogus students.”

Over the past few years international students have faced repeated attacks on their ability to study and work in the UK – as well as paying increasingly astronomical fees, they are required to register at police stations, carry biometric ID and to have their attendance monitored constantly by their institution and the UKBA. In April, the government abolished the post-study work visa – effectively forcing many international students to leave the country.

London Met is not alone in struggling to meet visa monitoring requirements: in a number of prestigious Russell Group universities, staff will privately admit that cuts to registry departments have made them effectively negligent. The effects of a curtailment order in this context are expressly political – the coalition is refusing to intervene to save the institution from bankruptcy because, unlike the universities that its own sons and daughters attend, London Met has become a target for the government’s market experiment in higher education.

Ultimately, this chaotic, money-driven experience is not confined to international students. With the rapid extension of the market across the system, this is the government’s vision for everyone in higher education. Events at London Met are once again proving to be a crucial and symbolic battleground for the future of education as a whole. Everyone who believes in preserving education as a public service must be willing to take action – in the courts and on the streets.

(Additional source: the Guardian)

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