UK university fiasco: unanswered questions
One of the problems with the way authorities have handled the London Metropolitan University (LMU) fiasco is the general lack of credible information. Neither the UK Border Agency nor the LMU knows or will let out the exact number of Indians among the 2,600-odd international students who are affected by the decision to revoke LMU’s power to grant student visas.
The university says that there were 359 Indian students in the 2011-2012 batch, but doesn’t know how many have them have graduated. Neither does it know how many of them are bogus and how many genuine students, nor how many Indians have been accepted to study in the 2012-2013 academic year.
On the other hand, the UKBA has told Indian diplomats that by their count there are around 600 Indians among the 2,600 affected students. At some point these figures will have to be harmonized and clarified – Indian authorities, for instance, will need to know exactly what went on at LMU. Did no one check applicants’ visas?
According to the UKBA, there are up to 500 bogus students at LMU facing deportation. And they apparently had lapsed visas, the wrong type of visas or no visas at all. Did LMU accept students who had no visas to stay in Britain? Hopefully, we’ll get the answers if and when the questions are posed in parliament or in a court of law.
This entire scandal, of course, could have been avoided had the UKBA held face-to-face interviews with foreigners wishing to study in Britain – rather than leaving the entire visa approval system to its ‘Highly Trusted’ sponsoring institutions, in this case LMU. According to a UKBA list of sponsors, there are nearly 1,500 Highly Trusted Sponsors, and around 500 other types of sponsors.
How on earth can a single government agency keep track of what 2,000 educational institutions are up to? When the British government decided to outsource the visa approval system for students, it did put in a regulatory mechanism in place.
These sponsoring schools, colleges and universities were meant to keep records of the students’ passport, qualifications, attendance and contact details. They must tell the UKBA if a student fails to enroll on the course, withdraws or misses 10 consecutive lessons. It looks like LMU failed on these counts, but what took the UKBA so long to act?
And when it did act, why did it get the timing so hopelessly wrong, creating panic just days from the start of the academic year?
The British government must also answer critics, led by Exeter University vice chancellor Sir Steve Smith, who say that it is targeting genuine students because that’s the only way it will ever meet its election pledge of bringing down net immigration to under 100,000.
The National Union of Students has accused politicians of treating international students as “a political football” and asked the government stop counting students as immigrants. “This situation and the botched process by which the (LMU) decision was arrived at could be avoided if international students were not included in statistics of permanent migrants,” it says.
Study remains the most popular reason for migrating to Britain. Between Sept 2010-2011, 250,000 foreign students came to the country. The figure is similar to 245,000 in the year to September 2010. Britain earns billions of pounds from these foreign students. But critics point out that most international students return to their countries, and that counting them as permanent immigrants is a pointless exercise.
Unless of course you are talking about politicians, in which case it becomes an easy way to show falling migrant numbers – even if it’s at the cost of Britain’s profitable and internationally-reputed education sector.