London Met takes legal action over visa licence

London Metropolitan University is to take legal action to challenge the revocation of its licence to admit international students, saying it has a duty to the higher education sector to challenge the UK Border Agency's decision.

September 4, 2012

In a statement issued last night, the university says it has instructed lawyers, Penningtons Solicitors, to "commence urgent legal action".

It warned that the loss of its highly trusted sponsor status could cost it £30 million a year in lost income.

Meanwhile, in a report published this morning, MPs on the Public Accounts Committee criticised attempts to tighten the student immigration system, begun under the Labour government in 2009.

"It is extraordinary that the UK Border Agency introduced its new points-based system for students before proper controls were in place to replace the old ones," said committee chair Margaret Hodge.

"The result of the agency's poorly planned and ill thought-out course of action was chaos: an immediate high level of abuse of the new system and a surge in the number of student visas. "

London Met's 2,600 existing non-EU students have until 1 December to find another institution, or face removal from the UK.

London Met's statement says: "Following the leak of the UK Border Agency's (UKBA) decision eight days ago, which 'announced' the revocation, the university has now had the opportunity to read the report. Working with its advisors, the university has conducted a thorough review of UKBA's 'evidence', and in the strongest possible terms challenges the outcome."

The statement disputes the UKBA's findings that London Met was failing to ensure international students had sufficient attainment in English language; says the university has been "taking every reasonable measure we could to be compliant"; and criticises the UKBA for repeatedly changing requirements and failing to provide clarity when requested.

"London Met is concerned that the current immigration policy is creating confusion across universities in the country and irrevocable damage to the UK's globally-recognised education sector," the statement adds.

"London Met appreciates that as the first UK university to be placed in this position it has a duty to the sector to try and bring an end to the damage arising from UKBA's decision."

Malcolm Gillies, the university's vice-chancellor, said: "London Met will fight this revocation, which is based on a highly flawed report by the UKBA. The university will continue to give top priority to the interests of our international students who have been so distressed by this precipitate action."

john.morgan@tsleducation.com

London Met's full statement on visa licence revocation

London Metropolitan University has tonight instructed its lawyers, Penningtons Solicitors LLP, to commence urgent legal action to challenge the revocation of its Highly Trusted status for sponsoring international students, so that its students can return to study as a matter of urgency.

Following the leak of the UK Border Agency's (UKBA) decision 8 days ago, which 'announced' the revocation, the University has now had the opportunity to read the report. Working with its advisors, the University has conducted a thorough review of UKBA's ‘evidence’, and in the strongest possible terms challenges the outcome.

Greater detail of the University’s challenge will be announced later this week, but in the meantime we can confirm that:

1) there is no evidence of systemic failings, as claimed. The evidence that we provided to UKBA clearly shows on file-after-file that we were taking every reasonable measure we could to be compliant. The UKBA’s claim that London Met “did not address serious and systemic failings that we identified 6 months ago” is simply not true.

2) the University has been conducting checks on its international students, specifically in relation to English language and educational ability, that not only meet UKBA's published requirements, but exceed those requirements in a number of key areas.

3) the University's staff has been diligently performing stringent checks to try and ensure that all individuals who are studying at the University are legally entitled to do so. UKBA has not provided any constructive advice to the sector on this matter, despite being asked to on numerous occasions.

4) the University has practices in place that allow it to monitor its international students in a manner which we believe complies with UKBA's guidance. Again, the sector has consistently asked UKBA for more clarity in relation to applying the monitoring requirements.

5) UKBA officers ignored information that was made available to them when they conducted their audit. Despite our concerns, we cooperated and assisted them fully and tried to persuade them on a number of occasions to review evidence that we felt was relevant.

6) UKBA's requirements have changed substantially at least 14 times in the last three years. We believe the University's approach to complying with this multitude of changes is of a standard that not only equates with practices adopted by the majority of other universities in the sector but in a number of key areas exceeds sector-wide practice.

The University has worked with UKBA to ensure that the University responded to any advice or comment from UKBA in relation to how best to enhance its systems.

The UK has a long-standing reputation of educational excellence and for attracting genuine students from a diverse international market. It is not in anyone's interests for there to be a system in place which constantly changes and which forces universities, their management and their staff automatically to treat students with suspicion until proven otherwise. London Met is concerned that the current immigration policy is creating confusion across universities in the country and irrevocable damage to the UK's globally-recognised education sector.

London Met appreciates that as the first UK University to be placed in this position it has a duty to the sector to try and bring an end to the damage arising from UKBA’s decision.
London Met’s community will defend its reputation and along with the wider Higher Education community, the reputation of the sector at large.

The revocation, announced on 29 August 2012, affects up to 2,600 continuing international students who will have until 1 December 2012 to find an alternative sponsor or face deportation. The revocation could result in as much as a £30 million annual loss to the institution.

Professor Malcolm Gillies, Vice-Chancellor of London Metropolitan University said: “London Met will fight this revocation, which is based on a highly flawed report by the UKBA. The University will continue to give top priority to the interests of our international students who have been so distressed by this precipitate action.”

Malcolm Gillies
Vice-Chancellor, London Metropolitan University

Clive Jones CBE
Chair, Board of Governors

3 September 2012

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