London: Over 2,600 non-EU students at a major London university who face deportation after immigration officials last night revoked its licence to admit international students due to "serious and systemic failures".
In a move that sent ripples across Britain's higher education sector, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) stripped the London Metropolitan University (LMU) of its licence to admit international students, putting the future of its non-EU students in serious jeopardy.
If the non-EU students already on courses at the university are unable to transfer to another UK university within 60 days, they face deportation to their home countries, according to UKBA rules.
Non-EU students who have already secured visa and are preparing to come and study at LMU from next month, will have their visas cancelled due to the revocation.
The Home Office guidance to universities states: "If a student has already been given a visa when we revoke your licence, we will cancel it if they have not travelled to the UK. If they then travel to the UK, we will refuse them entry."
LMU, which has faced serious funding and other issues in recent years, said the "the implications of the revocation are hugely significant and far-reaching", but its vice-chancellor Malcolm Gillies said its "absolute priority" was current and prospective students and that the university "will meet all its obligations to them".
A task force has been set up to help the students affected by the revocation.
Universities Minister David Willetts said: "It is important that genuine students who are affected through no fault of their own are offered prompt advice and help, including, if necessary, with finding other institutions at which to finish their studies".
He added: "We are tonight asking HEFCE [Higher Education Funding Council for England] and Universities UK to lead a task force, which will include UKBA and the NUS, to work with London Metropolitan University to support affected students and enable them to continue their studies in the UK. The task force will start work immediately."
Immigration minister Damian Green said LMU had "seriously breached" their visa licence privileges, and said: "London Met was seriously deficient as a sponsor and could not remain in this way."
Stating that the revocation would "cause anxiety and distress" to LMU students and their families, Eric Thomas, president of Universities UK said the revocation will not affect international students enrolled at other UK universities.
UKBA said in a statement: "London Metropolitan University's licence to sponsor non-EU students has been revoked after it failed to address serious and systemic failings that were identified by the UK Border Agency six months ago".
It added: "We have been working with them since then, but the latest audit revealed problems with 61 per cent of files randomly sampled. Allowing London Metto continue to sponsor and teach international students was not an option."
Max Watson, chairman of the LMU branch of trade union Unison said some of the universitys staff feared that the ban on taking non-EU students could lead to the university's demise.
"Some people are seeing this as the start of the endgame," Watson said.
Income from high-fee paying international students is crucial to the revenues of LMU and several universities.
The university sector has faced deep funding cuts under the David Cameron government which is struggling to cut budget deficit.