Leading article: A real problem, but an overreaction


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The Independent Online

There is no doubt that steps had to be taken to crack down on the number of illegal immigrants signing on for courses at bogus colleges in the UK. Largely through the work of the UK Border Agency, this problem seems all but eradicated, with a number of dubious colleges now closing.

There is also no doubt that London Metropolitan University was very lax at keeping tabs on just exactly who was studying under its jurisdiction. According to the agency, 26 in a sample of 101 students at the university had no valid visa and 142 out of 250 had attendance difficulties. If this is true, and it is denied by the university, London Metropolitan, which also has a poor record in conducting its financial affairs, certainly needed to put its own house in order.

That said, the UK Border Agency appears to have taken a sledgehammer to crack this nut by banning the university from teaching any of its non-EU foreign students. There are 2,600 of them already on courses there – many bona fide students about to start the second or third year of their degrees. As a result of this decision, they now have only 60 days to find an alternative institution to take them or face deportation. This is an appalling message to send around the world to potential students who may be looking to study in the UK – a business which is now worth £12bn annually. It should have been possible to differentiate between those who were real students and those who were not – and allow the former to continue with their studies. If London Metropolitan University needs encouragement to overhaul its bureaucracy, then bar it from taking any new foreign students, but do not deport wholesale hard-working current ones who are of benefit to our higher-education system.

If it is not possible to discriminate at present, then steps must be taken urgently to ensure there is no repeat of this fiasco and the upsetting scenes we have witnessed, as students attempt to find out about their futures and demonstrate outside Downing Street about the way they have been treated.