Lankan students at London Met University face deportation


By Sujeeva Nivunhella in London

More than 2,000 overseas students, including scores of Sri Lankans face deportation from Great Britain within 60 days if they fail to find a United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA) approved university after the British government stripped the Metropolitan University of its right to admit foreign students.

With this well-known higher seat of learning in London losing their Highly Trusted Status (HTS), which permits it to sponsor international students, around 100 Sri Lankan students reading for diverse degree programs will have to relocate to a UKBA approved campus or return to Sri Lanka, according to the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

However, unlike earlier occasions, the British Government has stepped in to request the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and Universities UK to set up a task force to support affected students and enable them to continue their studies in the UK. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), the UK Border Agency and the National Union of Students are also part of this task force.

The UKBA website says London Metropolitan University students now in the UK with a current, valid UK visa need not do anything immediately, and as for students on holiday outside Britain, they can return to the UK."New students planning to travel to the UK to start studying with London Metropolitan University should not travel", it advised.

Immigration Minister Damian Green said the University’s Highly Trusted Status was revoked due to "serious systematic failure". Most of students lacked a good standard of English knowledge and were not attending lectures. 

The Minister was quoted by Sky News saying "….the University proved to be a "very, very deficient" sponsor because more than a quarter of students sampled were studying there when they did not have permission to stay in the country. A "significant proportion" of students did not have a good standard of English and there was no proof that half of those sampled were turning up to lectures".

Professor Malcolm Gillies, the University’s Vice Chancellor, described the claims as not "particularly cogent" and said it would be disputing them, according to the

news report.

"I would go so far as to say that the UK Border Agency has been rewriting its own guidelines on this issue and this is something which should cause concern to all universities in the UK", he continued.

As foreign students were thrown into panic over the announcement, Universities Minister David Willetts, announcing the formation of a task force to help those affected by the decision, said "It is important that genuine students who are affected through no fault of their own are offered prompt advice and help, including, if necessary, with finding other institutions at which to finish their studies".

But, Keith Vaz, Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said the move could harm Britain’s reputation as a prime destination for overseas students. "It has left thousands of students in limbo and I am afraid it may damage the reputation of this country as the best place in the world for overseas students".

"Just when we are welcoming thousands of overseas visitors for the Olympics, at the same time we are saying to thousands of overseas students who have paid a small fortune to come to Britain in good faith that they can no longer study at this university", he was quoted as saying.

Some 290,000 international students and their dependents are granted visas each year on average, according to statistics from the National Audit Office. They contribute over £5bn to the UK economy, Universities UK says.

NUS President Liam Burns said that politicians need to realize that a continued attitude of suspicion towards international students could endanger the continuation of higher education as a successful export industry. "This heavy-handed decision makes no sense for students, no sense for institutions and no sense for the country."

Emmanuel Egwu, international students’ officer at the university, was one of the many students angered by the decision. He was granted a visa to study at the university in 2009 and is in the final year of his course.

"I pay a lot of money. I’ve spent £30,000 to 40,000 in tuition fees - my parents sell properties and land to make sure they can pay my fees so what’s going to happen to people like me," he told Sky News.

A statement posted on the university’s website last night read: "The implications of the revocation are hugely significant and far-reaching, and the university has already started to deal with these.

"Our absolute priority is to our students, both current and prospective, and the University will meet all its obligations to them."

With the UK Border Agency (UKBA) examining alleged failings, reports spoke of about 2,700 students and student over-stayers removed since April 1 2009, while another 40,000 to 50,000 individuals may have entered in 2009 to work rather than study.

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