University decision 'could harm UK'
Britain's reputation as home to one of the world's thriving higher education sectors is under threat after a university was stripped of its right to admit foreigners, critics have said.
More than 2,000 students could face ejection from the country after the Government revoked London Metropolitan University's highly-trusted status (HTS) for sponsoring international students.
But critics said the move sent a damaging message to all corners of the globe that the UK deports foreign students.
It came after more than a quarter of a sample of students studying at the university did not even have permission to stay in the country.
Professor Eric Thomas, president of Universities UK, said there were other ways to address the UK Border Agency's concerns and the university's licence should only have been revoked as a last resort.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: "No matter how this is dressed up, the damaging message that the UK deports foreign students studying at UK universities will reach all corners of the globe. The last thing we can afford to do is send a message that international students are no longer welcome here."
The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) also blamed the Government's "obsession with students abusing immigration regulations", saying the decision could make it harder for the UK to attract the most talented teachers, doctors, scientists and engineers.
Universities Minister David Willetts said a task force - led by the Higher Education Funding Council for England and Universities UK - would be formed to help overseas students affected by the decision. "It is important that genuine students who are affected through no fault of their own are offered prompt advice and help," he said.
London Metropolitan University's HTS status was suspended last month while the UK Border Agency (UKBA) examined alleged failings. Of 101 sample cases, 26 students were studying between December last year and May despite the fact they held no leave to remain in the UK, UKBA figures showed. A lack of required monitoring meant there was no proof students were turning up to lectures in 142 of 250 (57%) sampled records.
Foreign Secretary William Hague told the BBC: "We are a popular place to come and study, but people need to know that the quality is right, that real courses are there. I think the kind action of taken by the Home Office, by the UK Border Agency actually, is essential for us to maintain our reputation in the world for the education we offer, rather than being damaging to that reputation."