One source of invisible earnings for the United Kingdom has been the education system. Foreign students pay higher tuition fees than British students. Having foreign students attend British universities is also considered a multiplier of British soft power, given the assumption that the respect that they have acquired for British culture will continue to influence the students after they have returned to their native country.
The interest in recruiting foreign students, however, runs counter to a British interest of curbing illegal immigration. Student visas have served as gateways for illegal immigrants who merely want a way of getting into Britain.
Illegal immigration became an issue in the last elections and Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to combat this phenomenon. It was inevitable that a clash would emerge.
London Metropolitan University has become the first university to have its "highly trusted sponsor" status revoked by the U.K. Border Agency. This means that it could not vouch for the bona fides of non-European Union students at the university and admit them.
Theoretically, 2700 students could face deportation. The agency, running a spot check on 250 foreign students at the university, discovered that a large number of students had no valid visa, the majority were not attending classes and many had no adequate command of English the language of instruction. The university claimed that it is not living in a totalitarian society and it could not be expected to monitor the lives of that many students.
This is not the first time that the university has run into trouble. Last June it was fined nearly £6 million for over recruitment of new students and had previously bilked the treasury to pay students that it had failed to recruit or who had subsequently dropped out.
The university announced that if it was going to be deprived of 2700 paying students, it would have no recourse but to shut down. Many of the students at the university are of Indian origin and they and the Indian press raised a clamor about the injustice that would be imposed upon them after they had scraped together the expensive university fees. They argued that they should not be held to account for the violations of either the University or other students.
Sally Hunt, the head of the college teachers union, warned that deporting foreign students would hit all British universities since it would depress foreign applications.Others pointed to the University's achievements in providing higher education for minority students.