A leading figure within Scotland’s higher education sector has warned the international reputation of universities across Britain is being destroyed amid stringent immigration standards spearheaded by the UK Border Agency (UKBA).
Professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski, who chaired a recent panel established to review higher education governance in Scotland, believes the current crackdown on immigration could pose a “catastrophic” impact to HE across the UK “from which there can only be a very slow recovery, if that”.
The Robert Gordon University Principal’s comments come in the same week as London Metropolitan University was stripped of its Tier 4 Highly Trusted Sponsor (HTS) status, leaving it unable to recruit from outside the EU and 2,000 existing overseas students at risk of forced removal unless a new sponsor can be found.
The turn of events is one universities north of the Border are not unaccustomed to after Glasgow Caledonian University saw its HTS sponsor status suspended in 2011 amid concerns over attendance of non-EEA students. It was restored three weeks later after UKBA concerns were fully addressed.
However, the strongest anxiety emerged this year as fewer than half of Scotland’s colleges were left able to recruit international students long-term, prompting serious financial implications for a host of institutions and potential harmful spill over into provision for home students.
In a blog post entitled ‘How to destroy Britain’s international reputation for higher education’, Von Prondzynski said: “It is worth stating in passing that the system is hugely labour-intensive and also places the university in a rather different relationship with its overseas students: not just teaching them, but controlling them and observing (one might say snooping on) their lives. From student feedback, particularly feedback they deliver in their home countries, the UKBA régime is being interpreted as showing hostility by Britain to international students.
“Even without the events described below, this has visibly damaged efforts to recruit such students, and this in turn has had a direct financial, and of course educational, impact. It is, to be frank, complete lunacy; though of course all universities have no option but to follow the rules.
“And now, the UKBA has stripped London Metropolitan University (a very large institution) of its ‘Highly Trusted Sponsor’ status, as it was not satisfied with the performance and abilities of some of its overseas students. This has not only resulted in the university being prevented from admitting any new overseas students, but has also placed existing overseas students at risk of deportation unless another, UKBA approved, university can be found for them at very short notice. This is not likely to happen. In the meantime the university has rejected the alleged findings of the UKBA.”
Under the current set-up, added von Prondzynski, the country’s HE system faces a long road to recovery as other institutions become entangled in difficulties.
He added: “The result of this is a major disaster for Britain’s reputation as a destination for international students, and it will affect pretty much all other universities. Moreover it is the kind of disaster from which there can only be a very slow recovery, if that.
“It is almost impossible to understand how any government body could consider this a good idea. The impact on the UK’s higher education system could well be catastrophic. It is time for the UK government to address this, and to take steps to avoid this calamity.”