Damned if you do, damned if you don’t
Today’s news: London Metropolitan University loses its license to sponsor foreign students to enter the country. It seems they’ve been found guilty of substantial abuse of the system, with the implication that they’re taking money from bogus students whose real purpose is immigration.
Whereas London has several well-respected establishments ranging from regular universities to specialist academies, London Metropolitan University isn’t one of them. I find it entirely plausible that they’re abusing the system, have ignored warnings (even thought they were calling the government’s bluff), and have failed to put their house in order. It’s also perfectly plausible that it’s a border agency cockup, or elements of both, but for the purposes of this post we’ll discount that possibility.
In view of protests about this coming from academia and elsewhere, perhaps it needs someone to say that this is exactly the right action to take. The country is far too overcrowded to take unlimited immigration, and the government has to set and police rules to limit it. But higher education is a highly successful export, and it would be wrong for government to choke it with excessive red tape. Universities should be free (indeed, encouraged) to recruit genuine students from around the world without onerous restrictions such as quotas. That means it must be up to each university to take responsibility for the student visas it sponsors. For the government to police immigration policy without heavy meddling implies it must have the ultimate sanction of withdrawing a license, and it must be prepared to use it.
With a bit of luck, this serves two purposes. It stops one offender, and fires a warning shot in the direction of anyone else who might be tempted to abuse the system.
The downside to it is collateral damage. First, the direct effect on genuine foreign students: I hope all innocent victims will be provided for and can get the degree they deserve with minimal disruption! Second, the effect on other universities, if it causes a loss of confidence amongst foreign prospective applicants. I suspect the latter may be the biggest worry for many, but it should be alleviated if appropriate arrangements can be made for all existing students. Except of course, bogus students who are flushed out might seek to spin stories of persecution, and it seems likely some of them might get the ear of the media.