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London Metropolitan University (Visas)

Volume 549: debated on Thursday 6 September 2012

14. What recent discussions he has had with his ministerial colleagues on the UK Border Agency’s decision to revoke the licence held by London Metropolitan university to teach international students. (119406)

I am in regular contact with colleagues in the Home Office. The decision to revoke the licence was a matter for the UK Border Agency.

Our priority now is to ensure that the university’s legitimate overseas students are given the help and advice they need to continue their studies. To deliver this, I set up a taskforce within hours of UKBA’s decision, which has already started work.

I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. He mentions the taskforce, but the direct experience of one of my constituents is that it is anything but useful. She went as far as saying that it told her nothing that could not be found on the UKBA website. What steps will the Minister take to ensure that the help and advice given by the taskforce really enable legitimate students to access alternative courses?

The crucial task in which the taskforce is now engaged is preparing a kind of mini-clearing system in which there will be firm information about places available at specific universities and on specific courses that would have been available for suitably qualified overseas students at London Met. I can tell the hon. Lady and the House that that matching process will open and start on 17 September. We also know that the UKBA will not send out any letters about their 60-day limit to apply to the overseas students affected until 1 October.

I have a registered interest.

I put it to Ministers that although enforcement is critical, the message that needs to go out from the Government is that Britain is open for business in higher education, and that we care greatly about it for students, universities and our economy. What message is being sent by this Department to ensure that the world knows that we welcome higher education students and are proud of our record?

I very much agree with the right hon. Gentleman, as do the Government. Of course Britain is open for business. That includes being open to attract students from around the world who have a legitimate entitlement to study here. There is no cap on the number of overseas students who can come to study in Britain. Through our Foreign Office posts around the world, we have re-emphasised that message in the light of the experience of London Met.

The attitude of the Minister and his Government to the international reputation of the UK’s higher education sector and its importance to our economic growth is shockingly complacent. May I press the Minister on the legitimate international students at London Met who are partway through their studies? Will he guarantee that no such student will be financially worse off as a result of the licence revocation? If that is not possible, will he reconsider with his colleagues in the Home Office alternative routes by which legitimate international students may complete their studies at London Met?

I understand that one feature of the offers of places in the matching process that will be launched in 10 days’ time is that many of the universities will offer courses at the same or lower fees than the students would have experienced at London Met.