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Sic transit gloria LMU

Following some irregularities, the UK Border Agency has revoked London Metropolitan University's visa license. Not only can the university no longer recruit overseas (non-EU) students (a major source of income for all UK universities, and one of the few things that stops them from going bankrupt), but their existing overseas students have been told that they have sixty days to find alternative visa sponsors or they will be deported. LMU have estimated their annual income from overseas students at around £30M, about 20% of their total income. They currently have over 2000 overseas students.

Poll #1863277 Sic transit gloria LMU

Imminent financial meltdown at LMU?


LMU goes into financial meltdown as a consequence of the Highly Trusted Status revocation. The government:

bails them out unconditionally.
bails them out, but stipulates reasonable conditions.
bails them out, but stipulates onerous conditions.
encourages them to merge with another university.
encourages a private university provider to take them over.
encourages a private university provider to take them over, but none step forward.
lets them fail.

The least worst option

University of Buckingham
BPP (Apollo Group)
Regent's College
Kaplan, Inc
Education Managment Corporation

Who's next?

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I suspect they will be required to either merge with another University/FE institution (possibly one of the University of London ones?) OR accept an offer from a private company. In the interests of the free market I doubt the Government will want to specify which, but those will be the options. I think an offer from a private company is more likely - most other universities will not want the administrative stress and financial risk of taking on an institution which is believed to have been mismanaged.

With the major players in the University of London (King's, LSE) pondering their moment to follow Imperial's lead and go fully independent, I doubt that a merger with any UoL constituent is on the cards. If there is to be a merger, it's likely to be with South Bank or University of East London, or something like that. But what I suspect will happen is that once all the legitimate overseas students (and expect a lot of them to be declared illegitimate and sent home as part of this process) are found new homes in other London institutions (and they will be), the same piecemeal reallocation will happen to the students, staff and assets of LMU (ironically, this might be good for the Women's Library, which was facing an uncertain future).

Edited at 2012-08-30 10:12 am (UTC)

If there is to be a merger, it's likely to be with South Bank

Christ, what would you call that... London Mank?

I don't see what slightly rubbish London unis would gain from merging though, especially when quite geographically disparate. Plus, London Met is pretty toxic at this stage. I *think* it's no longer greylisted by UCU -- though that would be a laugh wouldn't it?

"Hey new colleague."

"I'm sorry, my union forbids me to collaborate with someone from your university."

I didn't say I thought a merger was on the cards - just that a merger with another new university was more plausible than with an institution of the UoL. I think the government would like to see LMU fail, as it sends out the message that they will not come to help any other university that gets into trouble.

I don't know enough to answer the poll, but this does look rather a mess: at least with the University of Wales mess last year it was "only" external institutions whose degrees the University was validating that were actually being naughty....

Poor Malcolm Gillies - after being driven out of City by the governors, he's spent the last year trying to turn London Met into what the Government would like all Universities to be (Business Schools-cum-Technical Colleges, with as much as possible outsourced), only for the Government to decide that LMU should be the sacrificial victim to send the message to everyone else that they must reduce their international student contingent. For I am pretty sure that this is what's going on here, and LMU have been targeted because their past infractions have marked them out to Whitehall as an institution that is going to fail anyway.

It's also worth noting that this story broke in the Sunday Times at the weekend, at which point various Home Office spokesmen and Ministers came on and said that no decision had been taken, and the ST had got it wrong. In other words, lied through their teeth.

Edited at 2012-08-30 10:01 am (UTC)

You think it's an instruction to reduce overseas students quota or you think it's an instruction to get serious about staff doing vetting on students. I think it's more designed to seriously put the frighteners on universities... not that we can do so much but still... My guess is that if some student turns out to be involved with terrorist activity (one last year had a UCL connection IIRC) they want to be able to say "all proper procedures followed".

I mean it may be about getting overseas students quotas down but they must surely realise that this would kick a leg out from most universities which have suffered from funding cuts anyway.

I don't see what the government loses from overseas students really... they fund universities which the government is clearly not prepared to do. The risk is that some are using it to get a visa which looks bad for the government.

I don't see what the government loses from overseas students really... they fund universities which the government is clearly not prepared to do. The risk is that some are using it to get a visa which looks bad for the government.

I think that this is the Tories pandering to their xenophobic roots, nothing more, nothing less.

You could well be right... but does this really help much? I mean if it's a measure to control immigration it's a very ineffective one on its own. On the other hand, I bet some uni administrators in charge of vetting foreign students are screaming like scalded cats today. Expect to see a lot more stringency on admissions to ensure they are compliant. I know a few people essentially take a "...and the horse you rode in on" attitude to the requirements that the borders agency tries to put on unis and deal with it simply as a "are they qualified and do they have the money" issue (which I suspect I would do had I a say in admissions).

It's not intended to help control immigration. It's intended to show the readers of the Mail and the Express that the government is being Tough on Johnny Foreigner by no longer letting him into the country for any reason as spurious as 'education'.

That this also aligns with the government's clear intent to change the university sector from its current quasi-public status to a more ideologically sound private enterprise is highly convenient, and if any universities fail, they're likely to be the ex-polys that only cater to the hoi polloi who would be better off without tertiary education.

Of course, it's entirely possible that the effect on university finances just wasn't thought through (like the effects of 9k tuition fees on CPI, and therefore on government expenditure).

Perhaps you are right it is just a token bit of saber rattling for the press to show that they're tough on those foreign devils coming over here (learning our facts). Astoundingly ill considered though.

I think you're assuming a level of joined-up thinking in government policy that just isn't there.

For a start, there's an inherent contradiction in Tory ideology, which states that free movement of money and trade is good, but free movement of people is very very bad.

Secondly, whilst people in Business, Innovation and Skills might see international students as a means of propping up UK Universities, this initiative comes from the Home Office, where xenophobes like Damian Green don't care about that. They see the international student system as a back door for undesirable foreigners to enter the UK (the fact that most of them leave a few years later doesn't seem to interest them). They probably believe that every international student denies a UK student a place (a view I've seen Gavin Esler express).

So yes, part of this is a message to universities to tighten up their procedures - which clearly were lax at LMU. But the Home Office wants net migration to drop drastically (from its current figure of over 200,000 a year to less than 100,000). Much though the government would like to pretend that this can be done through cracking down on bogus students and other illegals, that will only scratch the surface, and the reduction they want can only be achieved through turning away people who currently come here entirely legitimately (and ignoring the economic cost of that). They see reducing the number of overseas students as one of the means to do this - overlooking the fact that, since most leave, the effect of this on net migration in the long term is minimal.

Besides, as nmg says, this is less about actually doing something with a sensible point as Being Seen to Do Something. In that context, it's all about the flash and the big headline, and bugger the consequences. Yes, that's foolish. But this isn't a bunch of people like the Thatcher government, who, however reprehensible their policy objectives were, at least pursued them in a rational fashion, with measures that advanced them towards their targets. This is a bunch of incompetent idiots, so desperately keen to make an impact before the coalition self-destructs or the electorate throws them out that the never think anything through.

Hmm... thanks Tony. I'd be interested to know what effect universities do have on net migration. I imagine it's slightly misleading as the numbers of students in the UK has climbed dramatically. So, a move from (say) 10,000 students staying for three years then leaving to 100,000 doing the same looks like a large permanent migration but is not (if you just do the naive sum "how many foreigners haven't left yet" which depends really on how they define "net migration"). So an increase in student numbers could naively look like net inward migration even if none stayed.

In reality, of course, many do get jobs here.

I have Ideas about all this but am on holiday so officially Don't Care. With another administration I'd give the benefit of the doubt between cockup and conspiracy but this smells like deliberate policy.

One quick thing - Buckingham has long been seen as beyond the pale but it stands out in your list as being a charity, not a for-profit company with a legal obligation to maximise shareholder value. Which almost certainly means it wouldn't (couldn't) touch a financially sunken London Met with a bargepole. Alas.

You're spot on re: Buckingham, but it was included on the grounds that it is the best-known private university in the UK.

(I'd have included Grayling's New College of the Humanities, if it wasn't so laughable)

The distinction between Buckingham and previously publicly-funded universities is much less than it was: for most subjects - and off the top of my head, I think for all the ones that Buckingham offers - the full costs are met through upfront fees paid back through the student loans system.

Have you seen this? http://www.wonkhe.com/2012/08/31/seriously-deficient-or-whither-london-met-or-wheres-willetts/
Captures a lot of my thoughts, including pointing out that Willetts may be very smart on policy but is increasingly evidently not a big hitter politically.

Also interesting to see that one London-based university making a hasty bid for the fees of the 2000-or-so overseas students cast adrift by London Met is ... Glasgow Caledonian! http://www.scotsman.com/news/education/university-tries-to-keep-under-threat-students-in-uk-1-2498990

As I'm an employee of LMU, I'm going to be careful what I say, but...

Financial meltdown is probably not imminent for values of imminent less that 12 months. That would probably be 18 if LMU recruits up to (but not beyond) its SNC cap and doesn't get sued for past years' fees or other expenses by its (ex-)international students - but neither is probably a safe assumption to make. The reason is that LMU is rather cash-rich at the moment, as it's been following up last year's rationalisation of undergraduate courses by a rationalisation of its teaching and administrative buildings (the level of London property prices does of course help). But I'm not going to speculate beyond 12 months.

On who's next... a couple of other universities are rumoured to be very nervously consulting their lawyers. I've heard mentioned a couple of urban northern post-92 universities with names rather similar to LMU, but that may have been my informants' guesswork. More generally, any university that doesn't, say, realise that while HEFCE auditors will want to see class registers but are more interested in coursework assessment records and exam attendance, UKBA auditors are far more interested in class registers than coursework assessment.

Thanks for the clarification. I hope that it doesn't come down to the worst-case, obviously.

I've been invoved in the ensuring verifiable points of contact for overseas students. Frankly I think the requirements are entirely reasonable in return for the right to grant visas. UCU took a bullshit position on it and it's one of the many reasons I want no truck with them.

The obvious thing to do is independently verify existing visas including this year's intake but block them taking more international students without paying an external agency to verify the visa status as they are not competent.

Don't hurt the students but let the organisation take the hit, they've fucked up with plenty of warning.

It's really not an unreasonable position, universities can grant visas to overseas students but in return they must make sure the students are showing up reasonably often and can speak the language the course is delivered in. How hard is that?

* nb. this is a rant against procedures and admin not the academic standards of which I have no knowledge.

Edited at 2012-08-31 07:35 am (UTC)

Sometimes one is forced to consider the possibility that affairs are being conducted in a manner which, all things being considered and making all possible allowances is, not to put too fine a point on it, perhaps not entirely straightforward.

Given the minister's determination to pursue this matter we can only point out to him that this is a brave and original policy choice.

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