“How am I supposed to be good at English when I came here to learn it?”
“I don’t know English well, which is why I paid so much money to come here and study it,” said Saira, a Pakistani student at the London Metropolitan University. Saira is one of the several thousand students affected by a UK Border Agency (UKBA) ruling against the university’s visa regulations. She has recently discovered that she may have to learn the language she came to study in order to survive in the country as her university has failed the BA standard for English competency of international students. She termed the decision, “really, really shocking.”
In hindsight, it was probably in the works for a long time. The UK Border Agency (BA) has previously suspended the visa licence of private institutions when systemic failings have been identified, and subsequently revoked the visa licence if they failed to remedy these failings. However, when – in a landmark decision – UK BA withdrew the licence of a public institution it left thousands of students in uproar and the university community in shock on the impact it will have on a £12.5-billion-a -year industry.
When Dawn.com spoke to the students affected by the ruling, some broke down into tears while others were left fuming at what they call “inhumane treatment” at the hands of the UKBA.
Yakoub is an ‘A-Grade’ Mathematics student at London Metropolitan University who is currently searching for alternatives in order to complete his degree but the only offer he has been able to receive is from Brunel University, where he will have to repeat his second year. This leaves him with two extremely challenging tasks: Firstly, he does not have the finances to repeat his second year. He has been heavily reliant on his elderly parents for fund-raising in his village back home in Pakistan. Secondly, the UKBA does not grant a visa to international students who have to repeat a year but Yakoub must repeat a year to finish his studies at Brunel. This means he must prove this rule should not apply to him by either paying for legal advice or learn the law to prove that he has made “academic progress.”
Yakoub says indignantly “these universities are trying to squeeze more money out of us, and if they tell everyone to repeat one year how can we say no after all the hard work we have done? You come to this country for a better education, and we have done nothing wrong but the way we are being treated is so inhumane.”
Adnan, from Bangladesh, and Javeed, from India, were studying Computer Sciences. When asked whether the taskforce set up by the government had been any help, they replied: “The taskforce is useless. They can not say one way or the other. There is no help at all.”
These students have a little over a month to come to terms with the news, find an alternative university place, try to find the finances to pay for this having lost money at London Metropolitan and deal with the family concerns. Even if they are lucky to find a placement, they feel they are held hostage by whatever financial and non-financial demands that these institutions make as they have no feasible alternatives.
“Sixty days is not an adequate remedy for these students,” legal advisor Mohammad Jamali told Dawn.com. The London Metropolitan University should immediately establish a compensation board to help students with the immediate costs suffered and the BA should grant an extension of 80-100 days to alleviate the harrowing struggle these students are battling.
Students enrolled at the London Metropolitan undertook a silent protest outside No.10 Downing Street on Thursday, taping their mouths and carrying placards stating, “International students not welcome here.”
Bello, a Union Welfare Officer, says that an astounding nine out of ten Student Union Officers are international students. These officers will need to vacate their posts and leave the remaining university students without a union on which to rely, during an extremely trying period, unless the BA grants a reprieve to retain the union officers, which is highly unlikely. This is just one of the many non-financial contributions that international students make within the UK community, which will be severely affected.
The National Union of Students (NUS) has criticised BA’s decision for withdrawing London Met’s visa licence of London Metropolitan in order to meet UK government’s target to reduce immigration.
Fellow varsities, such as Bristol University, have criticised decision as failing to be proportionate given the irreparable damage that this message will send out to international students and the fact that this has left London Metropolitan exposed to an indeterminate amount of compensation claims.
The BA, meanwhile, has responded saying that London Metropolitan had been undergoing a BA audit for several months and the visa licence was suspended July 2012 after three significant systemic failings were uncovered and the subsequent revocation has been a “sensible measure to ensure we have immigration control.”
The London Metropolitan University is currently undertaking legal advice to respond decisively at the BA decision which they considered to be a wildly insensible measure.
While the finality of BA’s decision, and the future of international students remains unclear, growing concerns on immigration have sent one clear message: the UK is taking no prisoners as it grows more strict with immigration.
Shabana Saleem is a freelance writer based in London.