Former CBI boss says UKBA university decision was 'disproportionate'

Richard Lambert, the chancellor of the University of Warwick, has said that the decision of the UK Border Agency to remove London Metropolitan University's (LMU) Highly Trusted Sponsor status was 'disproportionate'. Highly Trusted Sponsor (HTS) status confers the right on a university to recruit and teach students from outside the European Union. Mr Lambert said that the decision would have 'damaging implications for the UK university system as a whole.'

The UK Border Agency (UKBA) removed LMU's HTS status on Wednesday 29th August 2012. The UKBA said that it had acted because of failures in LMU's systems for dealing with international students. The UKBA said that LMU failed to:
• conduct adequate checks on students' ability to speak English,
• carry out adequate checks to ensure that students were attending lectures and tutorials
• ensure that international students had Tier 4 student visas, which they are required to have in order to attend a UK university.

Writing in the Financial Times, Mr Lambert admitted 'LMU's administration has been chaotic in the past, and the latest crisis implies dreadful failures in its data monitoring and compliance' but said that the decision would have 'big consequences.'

Mr Lambert, a former editor of the Financial Times and also a former director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, said 'the headlines in those emerging economies that are the major source of international students…will reinforce the growing perception that the UK does not welcome these students, and is prepared, almost without notice, to jeopardise their education.' He said that this perception would be likely to send these students to study elsewhere.

Mr Lambert said in his article, published today, 31st August 2012, 'Higher education is one of the UK's largest and most rapidly growing sources of international revenue'. He said that official forecasts say that revenues from the sector could double to £17bn per annum by 2025. He added that the impact of foreign students on the cultural life of the UK was 'immeasurable'.

However, he said that the government's policy of reducing net immigration to 'tens of thousands' by 2015 was putting that industry at risk. He cited research by the Institute of Public Policy Research which suggests that it could cost the economy £2-3bn per annum.

Mr Lambert said that, to protect the reputation of British higher education, other British universities must ensure that those 2,600 students who face deportation as a result of LMU's loss of HTS status are found alternative courses. He said that, if the British government intends to cut immigration to the tens of thousands, it must consider removing students from those numbers. Most students, he said, enter the UK to study and leave when their studies are finished. 'Sticking to its present course would imply that the government is more interested in meeting its short-term political targets than it is in the long-term health of one of our country's most successful sectors.'

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