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Teesside licence suspended as UKBA cracks whip

An English university has become the first UK higher education institution known to have had its licence for sponsoring international students suspended since rules were toughened.

Teesside University's Highly Trusted Sponsor status was suspended in early February, it has emerged, after the UK Border Agency identified what are understood to be "administrative issues" with its recruitment of overseas students.

The university has been unable to sponsor international students for visas during the suspension, which was described by Teesside as a "temporary pause" in the processing of "immigration paperwork" and not a revocation of its licence.

It makes Teesside the first named university to be temporarily stopped from giving places to overseas applicants since the UKBA brought in tougher requirements on sponsoring students from outside the European Union.

Glasgow Caledonian University had its immigration licence temporarily suspended in April 2011, but the decision was taken under rules first put in place by the last Labour government. The new HTS guidelines, which came into force last September, require a university to meet stricter targets on student enrolment, completion and the proportion of students offered places that then have their visas approved.

It is understood that the UKBA found issues with Teesside's student records that needed "clarification" after a routine audit in autumn 2011, but the university now feels that it has met the agency's requirements.

"Teesside University has not had its HTS licence revoked and indeed no revocation action has been taken," a spokesman said.

"A temporary pause has, however, been placed on the processing of immigration paperwork by the university while we worked in partnership with the UKBA to enhance our processes.

"This process is now complete and has proved to be a very positive experience that has led to significant enhancements in a number of areas of our international activity."

The spokesman stressed that the "pause" had not prevented the university from "continuing to implement its international recruitment strategy throughout this period".

A list of UKBA-approved sponsors published on 16 March did not include Teesside.

In the year ended 31 July 2011, Teesside received £15.3 million in tuition fees from full-time international students out of a total income of £146.7 million.

Eight per cent of Teesside's higher education students were from outside the EU in 2010-11, according to data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

The new requirement to achieve HTS standing in order to sponsor international students has already prevented 250 private colleges from teaching or enrolling non-EU students after they failed to apply for the licence last year.

Geoffrey Alderman, a professor of history and politics at the University of Buckingham, said the suspension of a university's licence meant that "the UKBA is hitting the sector in all ways".

"It's doing enormous damage," he said, adding that the suspension would put the "fear of God" into other universities.

david.matthews@tsleducation.com.

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