Over 2,000 foreign students at the London Metropolitan University could face deportation within the next 60 days if they are unable to transfer to other institutions.
The news is the cause of heartbreak to many international students enrolled in the university which has just been stripped of its rights to sponsor visas for pupils beyond the European Union.
The government announced the shocking move on Thursday, provoking a protest among students who accused the conservative of playing politics with their future.
Emmanuel Egwu, a Nigerian student at London Met told the BBC that “students are panicking”. He says the option of transferring to other universities is difficult for students already enrolled at the affected college. They can no longer apply to other colleges easily as the admission process is already over.
The 24 year old foreign student says his future is uncertain. He would be unable to finish his final year in Forensic Sciences, explaining, “the University has been ordered to stop teaching foreign students like me”.
“I have been paying loads of tuition fees, my parents have been spending a lot of money, selling properties back home to make sure my tuition fees have been paid. It’s like flushing money down the toilet,” Egwu said.
The AP reported that London Met is considered to have lost it’s “highly trusted status”. Immigration Minister Damian Green said the university was harboring many students who barely qualified to fit the criteria for foreign students.
He said in a “significant proportion” of the cases many students lacked a proper knowledge of the English language, had no proof of attending lectures and more than a quarter lacked current permission to be in the country.
“Any one of those breaches would be serious,” Green told BBC radio. “We found all three of those breaches at London Metropolitan.”
The British government is intent on cracking down on students who use the cover of student visas to remain in the country illegally and work.
Green said that with 320,000 visas being issued annually to foreign students, the country could hardly sustain that. In May, according to the AP, the government launched Operation Mayapple “to crack down on students and other migrants stain in the UK for longer than permitted”. Some 2,000 migrants have been deported as a result of the program.
However education officials fear that giving the heave ho treatment to foreign students at places of learning could dissuade them from choosing to study in London in the future, which is bad for the schools’ budgets.
Foreign students outside of the EU pay more in fees than residents for a coveted London degree, it is much needed revenue for the university.
However the UK border agency says the problems have only been noted in one university, not in the sector as a whole.
Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, a group representing higher education institutions, says no matter the excuses the government’s action is “surprising and disproportionate.”
“It is one thing, raising issues if they have them with London Met and, if appropriate, penalizing the university … but penalizing legitimate international students is disproportionate and it is damaging to our international reputation,” Dandridge said.
“No matter how this is dressed up, the damaging message that the U.K. deports foreign students studying at U.K. universities will reach all corners of the globe,” said Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union. “The last thing we can afford to do is send a message that international students are no longer welcome here.”
Despite the negative reaction the move has sparked, some stand in support of it. Andrew Green, chairman of Migration Watch UK, which campaigns for tighter control of immigration, told the AP “there is crystal clear evidence of substantial abuse” of student visas. “The government (is) absolutely right to crack down on this.”