Security expert hits back at UUK memo

Chief executive Diana Warwick tells v-cs that she ‘briefed’ Today programme about Anthony Glees, but academic reiterates claim that universities’ student visa procedures are too lax. Melanie Newman reports

April 18, 2009

An academic who in the aftermath of last week’s terror arrests accused universities of failing to vet international students effectively has hit back after the head of Universities UK criticised him in a memo to vice-chancellors.

Anthony Glees, director of the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies at the University of Buckingham, made widely reported criticisms of the sector following the arrest on 8 April of 11 Pakistani men who were in the UK on student visas.

He claimed that universities were failing to scrutinise applicants sufficiently in their desperation to secure the high fees that international students pay.

In a memo sent on 16 April, Diana Warwick, chief executive of UUK, says she “rebutted” Professor Glees’ comments and “briefed” BBC Radio 4’s Today programme about him.

The memo states: “I am pleased to say that the Today programme on 10 April did not discuss Professor Glees’ comments." It adds: "We are meeting the Home Office early next week to try to ensure that there are no inappropriate policy responses to last week’s events that would disadvantage genuine international applicants seeking to study in the UK.”

Professor Glees responded: “By attacking me, [Baroness Warwick] is encouraging vice-chancellors to regard me as someone they ought to hate and not focusing on the actual issue – which is the refusal of universities to interview every student from overseas.”

He added: “Just yesterday, I interviewed a prospective student from a Middle Eastern country who told me he had been offered an unconditional place at a Welsh university on the basis of a very brief telephone conversation with a member of the department.”

Les Ebdon, vice-chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire and chairman of the Million+ think-tank representing new universities, also rejected Professor Glees’ argument in an interview with Times Higher Education this week.

He suggested that the new points-based immigration system, which comes into force this year, would make it harder for fake students to trick their way into the country.

But Professor Glees said: “It has actually become easier for an overseas person to get a student visa… because the interview by a British Embassy officer, which had been the rule, has been abolished.”

In a letter to The Times on 15 April, Geoffrey Alderman, professor of politics and contemporary history at Buckingham, said: “While private institutions that wish to sponsor international students must now obtain accreditation from specially approved accrediting agencies, universities have managed to gain exemption from this requirement on the grounds that they are all inspected by the Quality Assurance Agency… The problem is that QAA inspections (audits) cover none of the UK Border Agency’s student-monitoring requirements.”

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