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Willetts acts again on London Met fiasco

Plans include a £2m fund for affected students and improved immigration statistics

Science and universities minister David Willetts has announced a £2 million fund for overseas students affected by the UK Border Agency’s decision to revoke London Metropolitan University’s visa licence.

Willletts was speaking at the annual conference of Universities UK, the vice-chancellors’ umbrella body, at Keele University on 13 September.

The fund, designed to help students cover the costs of transferring to other institutions, was one of several measures designed to deal with the consequences of the UKBA’s decision.

“We must not lose sight of the individual students that are most affected by the current situation and we must maintain confidence across the world in the fair deal for overseas students”, Willetts told the conference. “I hope no other institution will face a similar situation in the future but it makes sense for sector to plan now for how it would manage that risk if it would arise.”

London Met students are holding a demonstration outside the university’s Holloway Road site from 1pm on 14 September. Research Fortnight understands that students from several universities are planning demonstrations on their own campuses on the same day in solidarity with London Met students.

Willetts said the UK needs to emphasise to the rest of the world that it still welcomes international students. He announced that he would join UUK’s president Eric Thomas in writing an article “to offer to key newspapers in our target markets explaining that overseas students are welcome here”.

Another important area of improvement, he said, is to get more transparent immigration statistics. He said the government is looking to publish disaggregated, detailed statistics on international students so that they could be separated out in net migration counts.

“Part of the issue in this debate is how many students stay on after the end of their studies and I think we all recognise that one of the problems is that it’s very hard properly to measure exit”, he said. “At the moment the debate is heavily based on surveys and rather unreliable data and we’re trying to improve the collection of immigration statistics to get a better understanding of exit.”

However, for some time UUK has for some time lobbied for completely removing students from net migration figures.

Other announcements in Willetts’ speech included an extra £6m for the Higher Education Innovation Fund and the establishment of a £3.8m cyber-security research institute, to be based at University College London.