The problems that hit London Metropolitan University earlier this year are still having a significant impact, both nationally and internationally. The United Kingdom Borders Agency (UKBA) revoked the university’s status as a Highly Trusted Sponsor in relation to international students. That meant it couldn’t recruit new international students for this session; nor could it accept students returning to continue their studies. The administrative problems of the university were visited directly upon innocent students. Court proceedings followed, the upshot of which has been a temporary truce. Thanks to a special task force set up by the funding council (HEFCE) the needs of most students have now been met for the moment.
However, a new issue has emerged affecting many international students in London, which is the need to register with the Police within 7 days of entry. The requirement applies to students from some 43 countries. The list was last updated in 1998, and it is difficult today to comprehend the Government’s thinking in drawing it up. It includes countries like China, Russia and Israel.
The problem is that there is only one police station in London where students are able to register. It can only process 400 students a day. But the steady rise in numbers of international students, and the concern engendered by UKBA’s approach to London Met, means that many thousands of students have been descending on the office. Once 400 students are in the queue, it is closed. So queues have been starting early and closing early - three weeks ago we were advised that students would need to arrive by 0630 in order to be seen that day. If you were at the back of the queue, that meant an all-day wait. So students started arriving early - before midnight - and queuing all night.
Ten days ago I visited the queue in the early morning and was shocked by what I saw. There is no shelter, no seating, no refreshments and no facilities. Some students told me they had been turned away more than once, and had kept returning until they could be seen.
We have made representations; we have even made strong and urgent representations. The police have been co-operative and have opened the office for longer hours, but that does not solve the underlying problem. We now have agreed with them that those of our students - including some continuing students as well as new students - who have not yet registered may do so by completing the online form and we will submit them in bulk to the police. They will then be deemed to have been registered in time, but will still need to go to the police station in person before the end of the year to complete the formalities. We are trying to persuade the police that this would be far better done on campus, and we have offered all facilities to assist.
But there must be serious doubts as to whether there is any point to the whole exercise. It is entirely likely that UKBA already hold all the information the students are being required to provide to the police. I am therefore pleased that Keith Vaz MP, chairman of the Home Affairs Committee of the House of Commons, has agreed to inquire into the position and to identify where responsibility lies for resolving it.