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News that the UK Border Agency had withdrawn the Metropolitan University of London’s licence to recruit and teach non-EU students caused some fluttering in the monastic dovecot as we are ourselves trying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.