Has the wider impact of London Metropolitan University’s Tier 4 licence suspension been properly considered?
Following the licence suspension of London Met, there has been around a 50% fall in British and EU student applications. Clearly London Met is suffering as a result, by what about the wider UK education sector?
Some people have interpreted the touch stance taken by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) with London Met as being an overall positive thing: Jason Kenney, Canadian Immigration Minister, is on the record as saying, “I read the London Met controversy as sending a strong message that the UK is going to maintain the integrity of its post-secondary brand to international students”.
Whilst it seems the majority of people can understand the motivation behind the UKBA’s actions in this particular case, may can’t understand the implementation. It’s actually hard to imagine how international students of London Metropolitan University could have been made to suffer any more – the fact that less than a month before the start of a new academic year in a foreign country they were told to find a different university, shows an apparent total disregard for their welfare.
So can we argue that the experience of international students at London Met has negatively impacted on the reputation of UK Education as a whole? Well, we could, but enough evidence is sparse at the moment.
Current data from the Universities and Colleges Admission Service (UCAS) paints a different story. Data released by UCAS in October 2012 showed an increase in applications: EU applications are up 1.8% and non-EU applications are up 5.1%. And despite the tighter restrictions on visas.
Further, UK universities actually believe that this upward trend is likely to continue. A recent Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) report projects a rise in income of 37% from non-EU students over the next three years. This doesn’t suggest there’s much of a faltering global reputation for UK Education.
The case for the London Met saga damaging the UK’s international reputation is also undermined by opinions of international students themselves. Whilst the story was widely covered in the UK, little attention was given to it overseas. In fact, many international students seem to know very little about the whole London Met controversy. What is more concerning to international students – and something they appear to be quite knowledgeable about – are the changes to study and post-study visas under the Points Based System (PBS).
But, as with any story that seems too good to be true, there are some important caveats. First, the UCAS figures are very early figures and selected form a very limited dataset, covering applications for Oxbridge and medicine courses. However, London Metropolitan University is closer to the bottom of UK University Rankings and the relevance of UCAS’ early figures to London Met – or similarly universities – is certainly questionable. It should go without saying that those international students applying to the UK’s top universities would generally be unconcerned by the London Met saga.
Second, the HEFCE report can also be easily scrutinised – “…these forecasts were prepared before the UKBA decision to revoke London Metropolitan University’s licence was announced”. Indeed, despite their own report, they are on record as saying there is a major risk of “reputational damage”.
So, whilst there is little evidence available today that the London Met saga has impacted negatively on the wider industry, it must be said that it is still probably too early to tell. Many people agree that the industry is on the edge of a slippery slope. Without doubt, over the past two years, it has appeared that the UK education sector has been under heavy attack – the London Met saga, as part of an accumulation of factors, could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. There is a very real danger of long-term damage.
The biggest area of concern is that the handling of London Metropolitan University could have set a precedent for future cases. Tougher visa restrictions, increased fees, further education budget cuts and a changing UKBA all provide a negative affect, which cumulatively , could have serious implications.