London Metropolitan: when everybody loses

I don’t like it when someone talks bad about my country, but I try to remain calm because I know, I’m just coming here because of my studies, I’m not coming here to be a citizen. So when people ask me: I just tell them, I’m here from my studies, and I’m not studying for free to be frank! I’m investing money – my fees which I’m paying, my rent, my food – am I not paying for it?… I will go, I’m not here to stay permanently.’

A Sudanese student in Uganda. But hearing the news that the UK government has chosen torevoke London Metropolitan University’s “highly trusted sponsor”status, I couldn’t help but think back to the Sudanese students I interviewed this Summer in a dusty Kampala cafe. Those words could have easily as been spoken by a Nigerian or an Indian student at London Met, now facing arbitrary deportation at the whim of a government chasing magic figures. The UK government would do well to listen to them.
Much has been said about the lunacy of this migration numbers game. This excellent blogpoints out how the ‘serious’ infractions of immigration rules at LMU may well in many cases have amounted to missing paperwork and over-generous admissions policies. Back in January I wrote about how I, like many academics – and university administrators – were effectively being forcibly co-opted into policing these new hard-line immigration policies. Somewhere between absent-minded professors and deliberate protest at being asked to distinguish between students on the basis of nationality, there are now a lot of half-filled in attendance records. But over-worked academics do not an immigration scam make. No wonder that amid the furious outrage that’s characterised colleagues emails in the past forty-eight hours, there are also fearful whispers: who’s next on the list?
How ironic that Government so ideologically in thrall to the market – so determined to remake higher education in privatised, free-market terms by cutting subsidies and raising the ceiling on prices – is now intervening to prevent customers accessing services offered (and in many cases paid for). Don’t mistake me: there are many things wrong with this model. There are many students sold over-priced and underwhelming degrees, all the while treated with disdain. But that’s a question of educational values: it’s not a matter for UKBA.
Only the ugly, unthinking politics of popular anti-migration can explain this decision. For a government that believes in market provision of goods and services and claims its priority is returning the UK to growth, there’s no economic logic to barring foreign students from LMU and making it increasingly difficult to obtain study visas. LMU will lose £30m in fees. London as a whole may lost £75m. International students are UK investors. They pay rent, they buy food, they take trains and buses. Even Migration Watch would find it hard to deny that – for the three or four years these students spend here – they are net contributors. The rhyme and the reason of student deportation isn’t economic: it’s the nastiest sort of illogical nationalism.
Worst of all, here’s a case where throwing out the international students may well do untold damage to British interests. Stripped of a third of its income, the general consensus among academics yesterday was that LMU may way struggle to stay afloat. And if the University is forced into drastic scale-back or closure, those who will arguably lose most are not the international students, mobile enough to move their financial capital elsewhere and to continue studying, but the immobile. The single parents, the mature students, those from “non-traditional” often socially-deprived backgrounds who can’t afford to leave East London to study elsewhere. London Metropolitan has played a key role in opening up access to higher education for these people.
So in this case it’s more obvious that usual. This anti-migration mindset – this conviction that once net migration hits 99,000 our socio-economic anxieties will disappear – is likely to have a severely detrimental impact on the lives of thousands of ordinary working-class Britons who are trying to engage in exactly the sort of progressive behaviour this government claims to applaud. In the long run, cheap nationalist votes may come at a very high national cost.

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