Last year I had my unpleasant run in with the UKBA. Because my bank balance had fallen below the required minimum of £800 in the final months of my PhD, the UKBA refused to renew my visa and I was asked to leave. The grounds for rejecting my visa were that I couldn’t meet the UK’s ‘maintenance’ requirements, even though I had been in the country for over 7 years, paid taxes, and contributed to the economy in myriad other ways. More importantly, I had just been hired as a senior lecturer at a UK institution of higher learning, so my capacity to earn wasn’t in any doubt. In the end I had to appeal the decision, go through months of uncertainty, and finally have the decision over-turned only after a campaign in my support by leading academics and intellectuals. The Scotsman and BBC Scotland were also immensely helpful in publicising my case. I thought my case was outrageous enough; but now a couple of thousand others find themselves in a similar situation thanks to the UKBA’s decision to withdraw the London Metropolitan University’s license to sponsor foreign students. In the video below you can hear some of them. Worse, Professor John Tulloch, a respected UK academic, a 7/7 survivor, has also been stripped of his British passport because of an absurd technicality.
In pandering to the xenophobic right, the government is gambling with the future of British Higher Education. This is madness at a time when a collapsing economy could really benefit from the money that foreign students bring in. Earlier this year 68 chancellors, governors and university presidents had written to David Cameron, warning him against the strict immigration policies that were going to lead foreign students to go elsewhere, costing the British economy billions. Universities are feeling the strain and the government is trying to place the burden for the lost revenue on home students, who are now made to pay exorbitant fees for degrees. This usually means the diminution of choices for students as they come under pressure to chose profitable disciplines. Social sciences and humanities inevitably suffer. The collapse began under New Labour, when education funding was slashed and top-up fees were introduced. Academic performance became less important than economic viability; highly regarded institutions such as Middlesex University’s philosophy department were shut down because they were no longer seen as being profitable enough. Things are now much worse. Universities spend more time marketing to a dwindling pool of students, academics spend more time chasing grants, managers spend more time searching for superfluous academics to lay off. It’s dog-eat-dog. It is unclear how bad things will get before those in authority reconsider the wisdom of their current policy. Academics have certainly done nothing to engender such reappraisal. The unions are compromised and for now most are just busy fending for themselves.
Also worth reading are Craig Murrays immensely important observations on the LMU scandal.
A university is perfectly capable of judging who is and who is not performing their studies adequately – indeed that is one of the prime functions of a university. Yet the UK Border Agency has imposed a whole new raft of extra criteria like percentage of lectures attended, and bank balances to be maintained, and forced the universities at their own cost to put in place resource expensive systems for monitoring it (yes, even the bank balances).
Yet these criteria are nothing to do with academic achievement – I attended less than 5% of lectures over my university career, and the bare minimum of tutorials I could get away with, yet I got a first. Similarly the university is best placed to know what level of English language understanding is needed for which particular course, but again the UK Border Agency imposes its own criteria – and indeed this has been the major reason given for acting against London Metropolitan University.
Universities are supposed to be self-governing institutions. The intrusion of the immigration authorities into their running is an appalling development which should alarm everyone. Overseas students who fail cease to be students; at that stage the university should and will inform the immigration authorities of their change of status. It is not the job of UKBA to determine who has passed and who failed. As long as the university recognises an individual as part of the university community; that is their legal status. The UK Borders Agency is not a degree-awarding body. It should attend to its own business.
These stupid and intrusive regulations must be repealed.