Canada's take on UK Met case: a tough act to follow

Minister discusses licence retraction and backs hard line according to UKBA. Chris Parr reports

October 25, 2012

The UK Border Agency's decision to revoke London Metropolitan University's licence to sponsor overseas students strengthened the image of UK higher education abroad, a Canadian cabinet minister has said.

Jason Kenney, minister of citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism, told Times Higher Education that far from damaging the UK's overseas reputation, the controversial decision demonstrated the UK's commitment to ensuring high-quality higher education.

He also said that Canada was likely to follow suit.

"We are intending to go the same direction," Mr Kenney, a minister in the Conservative federal government, said.

"We need to facilitate student study visas for bona fide students going to bona fide institutions," he added. That meant recognising that "there are many sub-par institutions that are not providing quality programmes, and which are mostly facilitating various forms of legal migration for people coming on study programmes".

The revocation of London Met's licence came after the UKBA identified "serious systemic failure" in the way the institution monitored its international student body, raised questions about students' English ability and criticised their attendance records.

"We have very similar problems and we intend to take similar steps," Mr Kenney continued. "I read the London Met controversy as sending a strong message that the UK is going to maintain the integrity of its post-secondary brand to international students."

In 2008, Canada launched the Canadian Experience Class, a programme designed to encourage overseas students to attend the country's universities. To date, more than 20,000 foreign students have been granted permanent Canadian residence under the programme.

With such a strong drive to recruit from overseas, Mr Kenney said, universities had a responsibility to ensure that new arrivals integrated into the campus community.

"The question is how to accommodate a growth in the foreign student market without sacrificing the quality of the study experience," he said. "If [universities] just want to go for the fast track and bring in unlimited numbers of foreign students without any regard for the quality of their student life, then I think that's a mistake."

Mr Kenney added: "Some of the more responsible universities in Canada have said to me that they should be careful. Yes, they want to attract foreign students - they enrich campus life and they certainly bring fees - but (the institutions) want to make sure that they don't end up with parallel communities forming on campus."

Mr Kenney said that university administrators had a responsibility to "make sure it's a quality product, a quality experience, and that the kids actually feel like they're going to school in England or Canada instead of back home".

"Quite frankly, if you're coming from an upper-middle-class Chinese family to study in Britain or Canada, your primary focus is to learn English," he added. "You shouldn't want to end up in a university where 30 or 40 per cent of the students are Mandarin speakers."

The minister spoke to THE after appearing at Immigration and Integration: A North American Perspective, an event in London hosted by UK thinktank Policy Exchange.

chris.parr@tsleducation.com.

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