London Metropolitan University (LMU) has been granted permission to seek a judicial review after the UK Border Agency (UKBA) revoked its licence to sponsor international students.
The decision by Mr Justice Irwin in the High Court on 21 September means the university’s non-EU students with valid visas can continue or begin their studies.
The judge refused to quash the decision to suspend the licence, preventing further recruitment of non-EU students in January, with the outcome of the judicial review not expected until the new year.
London Met sought legal action against the UKBA, despite a report outlining considerable problems monitoring international students at the university.
As with the licence revocation decisions against Scottish colleges in February 2012, LMU disputed the decision, but theLondonuniversity went one step further by challenging the decision through the courts.
On 20 September, the National Union of Students (NUS) announced that it had instructed leading law firm Bindmans to file a third party intervention to ensure that students’ voices were heard.
The NUS was granted leave to intervene in the case as a third party, and to present evidence at the hearing.
At the hearing, Richard Gordon, QC for London Met, a leading silk in administrative and public law, constitutional law, human rights and civil liberties cases, successfully argued that the decision “was taken pursuant to guidance that was not laid before Parliament and which is referred to nowhere in the immigration rules”.
London Met’s case was supported by a previous judgement that such a decision is only lawful if it has been laid before Parliament, which had not happened.
Gordon argued that UKBA could neither declare the situation an emergency, nor say that there was “a requirement of fairness to allow the making of informed representations.”
He further argued that the UKBA could not say that any current student was such a threat to immigration control that it “justified so draconian a decision as revocation or indeed suspension.”
Lisa Giovannetti QC, for the Home Office, countered that fairness did not require the university to be given advance warning and an opportunity to rectify problems prior to revocation.
The Journal understands that there are no students studying at London Met without leave to remain, but it was deemed a significant contributing problem in the six months up to August, prompting the licence revocation.
A London Met spokesman confirmed to The Journal that its 2,600 non-EU students, including those about to start their course “do so with the assurance that they will be able to complete their current academic year or their course, whichever is the sooner.”
Liam Burns, NUS President, said: “We are delighted that as a result of our third party intervention, interim relief has been granted by the High Court to current international students who have been unfairly affected by UKBA’s decision.”
Speaking to The Journal, MetSU president, Ayoola Onifade, added: “The Students’ Union is absolutely happy with the decision of the High Court today, we are proud of theUKjudiciary system. The system did not fail us.
“The Students’ Union will not relent in the campaign to meet the needs of our students. Our main priority is the overall welfare of our students and we will not fail them with regards to putting them first.
“We will be supporting the students who wish to remain at our institution or want to transfer with the guidance from the court and what both parties will agree on.
“The international students were overwhelmed. Seeing the radiant smile on their faces gives the execs joy. Even those [students] who had offers from other universities said they will not be leaving London Met again. I confirm that indeed they ‘are proud to be at London Met’.”
The long-term future of non-EU students at London Met remains unclear.
Burns added: “The future for international students at London Met after July 2013 is still uncertain and we need clarity as soon as possible.”
“This whole ugly episode has also thrown up wider questions about the treatment of international students in this country. Unless these issues are urgently addressed, theUK’s global reputation for higher education will remain tarnished.”