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.

Posted on August 31, 2012, in education, uk. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Completely agree. I’m slightly baffled as to why certain elements of academia should come running to the defence of London Metropolitan University as if this is, somehow, an attack on everyone. In the long run, those establishments with a deserved academic reputation can only benefit from firm but fair application of the rules. The alternative is that they all get a reputation for selling degrees to all-comers. Do they really want that? Successful exports (academic and otherwise) come from offering excellence, not mediocrity or worse.

  2. Possibly it is the need to relocate 2,500 students to new University places that has other Univeristies concerned. Strangely Universities get upset when people’s education is disrupted, even if they aren’t students at their own institution.

    The complaint by the UKBA as far as I can see if that the LMU has students attending who don’t have genuine documentation, not that people are using it for immigration fraud.

    As for reputation the LMU isn’t some sort of stellar academic establishment, but there are plenty of worse UK Universities.

  3. Simon, “As for reputation”, they’re firmly at the bottom of UK league tables: http://www.thecompleteuniversityguide.co.uk/league-tables/rankings

  4. This isn’t the first time that LMU has been caught engaging in questionable practices. In 2008-9 they were accused of materially under-reporting drop out rates in order to keep the associated (taxpayer) funding, resulting in the Higher Education Funding Council for England reclaiming millions of pounds for improperly retained fees. It seemed that governance was poor and the university’s administrators were desperate to overcome a funding crisis. Perhaps something similar is happening again?

  5. That list is incomplete, I think about 20 are missing, presumably because the missing Univerisities didn’t supply relevant data. The ranking mechanism is also doubtful, since it marks them down for low entrance requirements, and also for low achievement after graduation, things which might be correlated. Indeed nearly all the scores used might be correlated with preselection of students. Whatever happened to CVA?

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