First a statement of interest. I have given talks to classes at London Metropolitan University, attended a couple of conferences there, and been quite heavily engaged as an unpaid adviser to the Ghanaian side in (so far successful) negotiations for LMU acourses to be taught in Ghana.
There is no doubt that LMU is a real university, with some of its teaching and courses of world class. There is also no doubt that it does more than perhaps any other UK university to bring in students from communities which have not traditionally been high-achieving in education.
There is also no doubt at all that LMU had many hundred genuine, hard working overseas students who were performing well on their courses, and who have now been forced out, without notice. For the government to say they are being helped to find other universities is not good enough. In many cases they will be disadvantaged by lack of commonality of content with their new co-students on the first two years of the course, not to mention the massive disruption of moving home, losing part-time jobs, friends, babycare or healthcare arrangements etc. Suddenly to ban a university not just from accepting new international students, but from teaching all those it already has, is an act of monstrous disproportion affecting two thousand of people.
That there has been virtually no public outcry is a measure of just how accustomed we have become to extreme abuse of arbitrary power by government – and of the easy acceptance of the anti-immigrant agenda by mainstream media.
There is no doubt there was a massive problem with illegal immigration disguised as education. It focused on language schools in particular. There are of course some excellent language schools which do a good job, but there were certainly hundreds which scarcely functioned at all. I know, as personal friends, a number of “students” who have been here – in one case for over eight years – and literally never once visited their supposed place of education. It is also a fact that several of these fake colleges were owned and run by organised crime, as one of a number of rackets of the interests that established them. The government has closed down many scores of these fake colleges in the last three years. That is good. As Margaret Hodge was complaining yesterday, it had deported very few of the 60,000 or so identified fake students here from those colleges.
Unlike Ms Hodge, I regard that as good also. While in favour of preventing illegal entry, I am not in favour of uprooting people forcibly from wherever they have succeeded in making a home.
The root of London Metropolitan University’s problems was a stupid “anti-elitist” New Labour decision that real, large, world-respected universities must be treated in the immigration rules exactly like a pretend language school housed in one room above a laundrette.
A university is perfectly capable of judging who is and who is not performing their studies adequately – indeed that is one of the prime functions of a university. Yet the UK Border Agency has imposed a whole new raft of extra criteria like percentage of lectures attended, and bank balances to be maintained, and forced the universities at their own cost to put in place resource expensive systems for monitoring it (yes, even the bank balances).
Yet these criteria are nothing to do with academic achievement – I attended less than 5% of lectures over my university career, and the bare minimum of tutorials I could get away with, yet I got a first. Similarly the university is best placed to know what level of English language understanding is needed for which particular course, but again the UK Border Agency imposes its own criteria – and indeed this has been the major reason given for acting against London Metropolitan University.
Universities are supposed to be self-governing institutions. The intrusion of the immigration authorities into their running is an appalling development which should alarm everyone. Overseas students who fail cease to be students; at that stage the university should and will inform the immigration authorities of their change of status. It is not the job of UKBA to determine who has passed and who failed. As long as the university recognises an individual as part of the university community; that is their legal status. The UK Borders Agency is not a degree-awarding body. It should attend to its own business.
These stupid and intrusive regulations must be repealed.