Visas, Monitoring and Responsibility

News that the UK Border Agency had withdrawn the Metropolitan University of London’s licence to recruit and teach non-EU students caused some fluttering in the monastic dovecot as we are ourselves trying to sort out visa issues for our prospective  postulant (a U.S. citizen). On closer inspection, however, UKBA has made a stronger case than at first appeared. It maintains that

  • More than a quarter of the 101 students sampled were studying at the university when they had no leave to remain in this country
  • Some 20 of 50 checked files found ‘no proper evidence’ that the students’ mandatory English levels had been reached
  • And some 142 of 250 (57%) sampled records had attendance monitoring issues, which meant it was impossible for the university to know whether students were turning up for classes or not.

If true, these would suggest that the University had been, at best, lax in its duty of superintendence. No doubt public opinion will tend to divide along fairly predictable fault lines: those who are appalled at the thought of several hundred students being ejected from Britain, and those who were never very happy at their being here in the first place. What may attract less attention is the University’s responsibility for the situation.

The human cost of any institutional failure is always incalculable, but no one is pretending that in this case it will be anything other than catastrophic for lots of people. The UKBA or the Government will be blamed, but surely it is the University which has let down both its students and the British public by (allegedly) failing to observe the rules. Whether we agree with those rules or not, we are subject to them. Universities in this country derive roughly a third of their income from overseas students. Surely the least they can do is ensure that overseas students are treated well, which includes making sure they are aware of the restrictions a student visa imposes? My only quibble would be with the attendance issue. Those of us who went to Oxford or Cambridge in the bad old days of the twentieth century will remember, a little guiltily perhaps, that lectures were optional; and the earlier they were, the more ‘optional’ they seemed to become.


7 thoughts on “Visas, Monitoring and Responsibility”

  1. When I knew the place, or rather its predecessor Uni N London, twenty years ago doing a Masters it had a good reputation for encouraging second or third generation immigrants, with perhaps few secondary education qualifications, to attempt degree courses. It also had a strong line in promoting education for local women from ethnic minority backgrounds – esp. Muslim women.

    Unsurprisingly, the upshot was a bit of a rag-bag of abilities and competencies, but there was no sense then that it was just a way of turning a coin for the university coffers. There clearly were some foreign students, on full fee, who could barely bang two bricks together and make a noise – but then the same could be said of my old public school!

    Something though appears to have gone badly wrong. Inclusivity for the sake of social cohesion gave way to turning at least one blind eye to Islamic supremacism – that was beginning to happen in my day – and there is no way that this current position has been reached by accident. Whether driven by ideology or by finance – probably both – this is not mere organisational failure – strategic drift as it were – this is something for the police to investigate.

  2. The language regulations for priests coming in to supply or work from outside the EU have made life quite difficult for certain religious orders and ethnic chaplaincies. That said, one wants any priests working in the UK to have a decent standard of English (currently level 6, approx equal to a GCSE Eng Lang pass, I believe), so that they don’t just exist in an ethnic ghetto and unwittingly encourage their parishioners to do the same.
    The impetus for the new rules, I think, came largely from the problem of imams coming in from Pakistan or elsewhere with no English and preaching something close to jihad. Officialdom is loath to “discriminate” between Christian pastors and Islamic ones, though I haven’t heard of many priests or ministers of churches encouraging jihad recently.

    By the way, please don’t propagate the notion that Oxford or Cambridge in the late 20th century was a comfortable “gentlemans’ club” where lectures were optional. When I went up to do Nat Sci in 1972 we had 24 lectures per week plus about 12 hours practicals per week plus 4 supervisions per week. Medics, engineers and lawyers I think had similar heavy workloads. The lectures were certainly not optional if you wanted to get a decent degree, and supervisors or dean of studies would have a word with you if you were missing a lot of lectures.
    Your comments may be true for those who did arts degrees. They certainly weren’t true for the physical and medical sciences.

  3. Public opinion will be shaped to a large degree by the spin the media places on the story as is always the case. One of the truths lurking beneath the headlines is that there will always be some students who gain entry into a country, Canada included, through student visas. Once in their target country, these posers disappear and live in our societies until caught by immigration services and deported. The universities may bear some degree of blame as to monitoring and reporting, but don’t forget who the perpetrators are to begin with.

    We noticed on our calendar that yesterday, Aug. 30th is listed as the Feast Day of the Martyrs of York. No posting on this? Did you observe it in the U.K.? It is not observed here in Canada as they were English Saints, albeit one distant relative, so was a special day for our family.

  4. A dear friend of mine, a British citizen, entered a monastery in the US earlier this year. She waited an unbearably long time for visa issues to be sorted. Many, many prayers and good wishes for your postulant.

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