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Why has London Met been banned from taking foreign students?

A disproportionate and dangerous decision.

Home Secretary Theresa May at last year's Conservative conference.
Home Secretary Theresa May at last year's Conservative conference. Photograph: Getty Images.

The news broke this morning that London Metropolitan University has been banned from admitting foreign students, leaving 3,000 non-EU students facing deportation from the UK unless they can find an alternative sponsor within the next 60 days. The decision will cost the university £30m, the equivalent of a fifth of its budget, and could, vice-chancellor Malcolm Gillies, has warned, threaten its future. In 2010-11, it ran an operating surplus of £3.9m, and had net assets of £112m.

So why was London Met's licence revoked? The university's "highly trusted sponsor" status was initially suspended last month over fears that "a small minority" of students did not have accurate documentation. The UK Border Agency has now announced that London Met's failure to address "serious and systemic failings" (the latest audit revealed problems with 61% of files randomly sampled) means that it will be formally banned from admitting foreign students. A UKBA spokesman said: "Allowing London Metropolitan University to continue to sponsor and teach international students was not an option."

There is little doubt that London Met's admissions process was deficient. Vice-chancellor Malcolm Gillies has previously said that university leaders "absolutely accept" that international student recruitment "will need further adapting". But in revoking the university's licence entirely, the government is indulging in an crude form of collective punishment as legitimate, fee-paying foreign students lose their right to study. As Sunder Katwala points out, it is bizarre that no transitional arrangements were made. That the decision was announced on the day that new (and likely embarrassing) immigration figures are published, raises further questions over ministers' motives.

There is now a significant risk of contagion as would-be students are deterred from coming to the UK. Universities have already warned that the government's immigration cap is restricting their ability to attract overseas pupils. With higher education worth £12.5bn a year to the UK, ministers are cooking a golden goose.