Shock as 'highly trusted' sponsor status is revoked

30th March 2012 at 01:00
UK Border Agency's decision means many students' futures are now uncertain

A Scottish college principal has talked of her devastation and shock at the decision by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) to revoke her college's "highly trusted" sponsor status.

Susan Walsh is head of Cardonald College in Glasgow - one of six colleges in Scotland told by the UKBA they can no longer sponsor overseas students to study at their institutions, leaving hundreds of current students with an uncertain future.

In Cardonald's case, the decision was made after the college fell foul of a UKBA rule demanding an 85 per cent completion rate by overseas students. With a very small number of students due to finish last year, failure by two students was enough for the college to fall below that 85 per cent threshold. Altogether 39 international students currently attend the college.

"We are talking about seven students who could have successfully completed. Five did, one did not meet the attendance requirements, so we told the Border Agency about this student, and one didn't successfully complete," said Mrs Walsh.

The college had invited the UKBA in only a few months earlier to speak to students and highlight any concerns - but it had "absolutely none", she said. She was therefore shocked to discover, when a staff member called the UKBA for an unrelated reason, that her college no longer had "highly trusted" status.

This could now leave her overseas students with only 60 days to find another sponsor or leave the country.

"For us, that initial shock immediately faded away to concern for our students. I am absolutely devastated for them. We have a duty to these students - to all our students, but more so to them. They are away from home, many of them are on their own. They came to us in good faith, and this has happened. None of them has done anything which in any way contravenes the compliance regulations, and neither has the college."

She said she understood the UKBA had an important role to fulfil in "ensuring people didn't enter this country who ought not to be here". However, while the agency's website stated that institutions with small numbers of overseas students would be considered differently, the college had so far had no response to a letter it had written following the decision, and had had no opportunity to appeal.

"We need the UK Border Agency to formally engage with us, to talk to us about why they have made these decisions, what leeway we have, how we can help support those students," she said.

Last week, Scotland's Colleges, which represents the FE sector in Scotland, wrote to the Scottish secretary, Michael Moore, asking him to raise its concerns with the UK Home Office.

`Big investment'

Samuel Akintunde Folorunso (pictured), 25, came to Glasgow from Nigeria three years ago and is now two months away from finishing his HND in administration and IT. He was "shocked" when he found out he may be forced to leave, he said.

"I have applied for university. I have two conditional offers, and the condition is that I must have successfully completed my HND. If I can't finish my HND, there won't be a degree for me," he said.

He had come to Scotland because of its reputation, and studying here was a "big investment", he told TESS. While he felt supported by the college and knew staff were trying to make arrangements for a transfer if the decision is upheld, the "worst scenario would be very bad".

With exams coming up in May, he says he has no choice but to "keep my head down and keep working".

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