The UK Border Agency’s decision to revoke London Metropolitan’s licence to teach international students was cruel and calculated. It threatens to wreck thousands of lives. Over 2,000 students currently midway through their courses face the prospect of enforced deportation. While a 60 day ‘grace period’ is given in order for students to attempt to transfer to other universities, the reality is for many (if not most) this will prove impossible. As well as the horrendous effect on current London Met students, those expecting to come to London to begin courses in September are also going to be hit. They will be unable to begin their studies as planned.
The unprecedented move to revoke this licence has sent shockwaves throughout the UK’s higher education system and has been met with fury and defiance by London Met’s staff and students. A protest held on 30 August saw dozens of students angrily demonstrate outside Downing Street. For the government this is an opportunity to appear ‘tough’ on immigration. For ordinary students, their futures are at stake.
This is not the first set of bad headlines to hit London Met in recent weeks. Just under a month ago the university’s management announced plans to privatise all so-called back room services. Everything other than teaching and the Vice-Chancellors’ office could be handed over to the profiteers. These private companies put making money ahead of the interests of staff and students.
The impact of management’s previous attempts to run London Met on the cheap can be seen. Without sufficient staffing levels, how can over stretched and underpaid workers be expected to comply with the government’ stringent requirements for ‘student monitoring’?
While the university’s management now plead innocence, it is clear that their priorities have not been aligned with the needs of staff and students for some time. There is a strong possibility that London Met’s partnership with the private college London School of Business and Finance was a contributing factor in the UKBA’s recent decision. Clearly the licence issue cannot be separated form that of privatisation. The university’s management bear a substantial amount of responsibility for the dire situation the university now finds itself in. The revocation of this licence puts the entire future of the university in jeopardy. Closure is not off the cards.
This means fighting this draconian decision is absolutely crucial. Not only does it threaten thousands of London Met students, it sets a grim precedent for the future. As this is the first publicly funded institution to have its licence revoked, it marks a new and changing attitude towards international students. University managements and the government have long seen those who come to study from outside the EU as lucrative ‘cash cows’ who they charge exorbitant fees.
This emphasises the need for those opposed to what the government is doing to argue for education that is fully funded, publicly owned and universally free at all levels – international students included. International students should not be treated as cash cows one day and marched home the next, all at the whim of politicians representing the 1%.
But new government targets to drastically reduce the number of people entering the country mean international students are now seen as an irritating block on them lowering net migration figures. If the government get away with this unchallenged, it is likely that London Met students will not be the last to face this outrageous treatment.
Fighting this is therefore given an added urgency. While we must demand an immediate reversal of the decision to ban international students from London Met, at the very least an amnesty for current students, to allow them to complete their studies, should be offered.
This campaign should be a top priority for the National Union of Students. Writing in The Guardian, NUS president Liam Burns correctly expressed opposition to the decision, but failed to offer any leadership to students who want to fight for their right to study at London Met. Instead he pledged that NUS would help support students in transferring to other universities. While Socialist Students does not oppose NUS offering this service, this should not be a substitute for fighting to stop students being forced to change university or face deportation.
Unfortunately Liam Burns’ attitude has been mirrored in the way that the NUS officers have approached the campaign so far. In meetings discussing the course of the campaign they have argued for small scale actions involving only selected students rather than for mobilising maximum numbers to protests. In order to push back the government a mass campaign will need to be organised. This will need to involve students, university lecturers and support staff and members of the wider public if it is to be successful.
The trade unions at London Met have taken the initiative of calling a lobby of the UKBA on Wednesday 5th Sep at 1pm. We should aim for a big turn out at this event. NUS should take this up and mobilise for as many students as possible to attend. This should only be the start. It should be the beginning of a mass campaign, organised democratically, involving students, staff as well as the wider population. A mass fightback can force the government back, protect international students and save London Met from the government, management and profiteers currently steering it on a course to destruction.
YFJE Demands: An immediate amnesty for all current students No deportations No forced university transfers Reinstate London Met’s international students ‘licence’ Stop all privatisation at London Met – support campus trade unions in their fight to defend shared services For education that is fully funded, publicly owned and universally free at all levels.
What can you do? Upcoming events: 1. The lobby of the Board of Governors to demand they take immediate action: 5-6pm, Monday 3rd Sep outside the main entrance of the Moorgate Building, City Campus.
2. Lobby of UKBA: outside the Home Office, 2 Marsham Street, London SW1P 4DF on Wednesday 5th Sep, commencing at 1pm.