High Court judges could have the final say in a bitter dispute between immigration officials and a London university which has left 2,500 foreign students in fear of being deported.
Legal experts are predicting that London Metropolitan University, which has been stripped of its licence to sponsor non-EU students by the UK Border Agency (UKBA), will have no choice but to fight the Government through the courts.
The decision to put the London Met's 2,500 foreign students at risk of being deported came at a time when the Government is struggling to fulfil a promise to bring net immigration down to below 100,000 a year.
The Home Secretary Theresa May has resisted pressure from other ministers, including the Business Secretary Vince Cable and the Universities Minister David Willetts, not to include students within the Government's cap. Foreign students add an estimated £12.5bn a year to the UK economy. The London Met is facing a £20m hole in its budget unless it can persuade the courts to over-rule the UKBA.
"London Met may have no choice but to dispute the decision, given the importance to it of fees from foreign students, and will probably have to seek a judicial review in the High Court," Adam Chapman, head of public law at Kingsley Napley said.
He added: "Students who will be forced to leave the country may also seek to challenge the revocation of their right to study here. Only last year the court found that Burnley Training College was unfairly stripped of its sponsor licence"
A spokesman for London Met did not rule out a legal challenge. He said: "We dispute the basis of the decision. That's as much as we can say at present."
The university was also in talks with other universities about the possibility of finding places for the stranded students. Regent's College, in London, has offered to take 200 students, and to make £800,000 worth of scholarships available to cover the difference in tuition fees. The principal of Regent's College, Aldwyn Cooper, said: "This sends negative messages to the market which is damaging for UK higher education. We have put these scholarships in place to try and minimise the impact on students who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in this difficult situation."
£20m The hole in London Met’s budget that the removal of foreign students createsReuse content