UK Immigration has been criticised for 'outrageous interference in the running of London Metropolitan University,' according to a report published by Times Higher Education.
Documents confirm that the institution faced almost certain insolvency as the UKBA (United Kingdom Border Agency which was the previous Government agency in charge of immigration) informed them that their Tier 4 visa sponsorship licence application would be refused and that they risked having their Tier 2 sponsorship licence revoked unless a controversial governor was removed from its board.
The board member in question is Jawad Botmeh. In 1996, Mr Botmeh was convicted and sentenced to twenty years in prison for his involvement in a conspiracy to set off explosive devices in connection with two car bombings, one of which was outside of the Israeli Embassy in London. He was released from prison in 2008. However, despite being found guilty, he has always vehemently denied any connection to the plot.
Having served at London Met as a research manager for five years, the Palestinian was nominated by staff to join the institution's board in January 2013. One month later, due to the previous conviction, Mr Botmeh was suspended by the University along with the man who recruited him, Max Watson, the former chairman of London Met's Unison (a trade union) branch.
Following protests from supporters, including Jeremy Corbyn who is now the leader of the Labour Party, the suspensions on both men were lifted by London Met and Mr Botmeh was permitted to continue in his role as a governor.
Meeting to discuss UKBA and Jawad Botmeh
According to council minutes from 14 March 2013, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) had attempted to intervene in London Met's decision to reinstate Mr Botmeh as a governor – which automatically also made him a university director.
An excerpt from the meeting minutes, which was the first meeting Mr Botmeh attended after he was reinstated, reveals that governors discussed concerns received from the UKBA in relation to Jawad Botmeh serving as director at London Met.
UKBA threatened London Met
Discussions centred on threats made by the UKBA to refuse a new application made by London Met for a Tier 4 visa sponsorship licence and the revocation of its current Tier 2 sponsorship licence.
"The UKBA had made it clear to the University that Jawad's continuation as a director would lead not only to the refusal of the new application for a Tier 4 licence, but to the revocation of the existing Tier 2 licence," the meeting notes state.
When the meeting took place, London Met had just submitted a new application for a Tier 4 sponsorship licence to sponsor international students after it had been revoked in the previous year. A Tier 2 sponsorship licence allows the institution to sponsor a UK work visa for nationals outside of the European Union.
"Having the Tier 4 licence reinstated is vital to the financial future of the London Met - without it, insolvency is virtually made certain," the minutes read. Governors were informed that they would be presented with 'two formal options in relation to the removal of Mr Botmeh as a director.'
Jawad Botmeh resigns anyway
However, after considering his position, Mr Botmeh took the decision to resign with immediate effect. He said that he did not want to be 'blamed personally' for the rejection of London Met's new Tier 4 sponsorship licence application.
In a statement from the chairman of the University and College Union (UCU) at London Met, Mark Campbell, he said: "The UKBA had engaged in unprecedented and outrageous interference in a university's autonomy as to whom among its bonafide staff it could have democratically selected as its elected staff governor."
"We are shocked to discover the welfare of hundreds of our existing and future international students was used as a bargaining chip in what appears to us an exercise in governmental bullying and extortion," he added.
A spokesperson for the national UCU said: "Government ministers should not be holding universities to ransom over decisions on who sits on their governing bodies."
The Home Office revealed that when London Met had submitted its application for a new Tier 4 licence, it had specified that Mr Botmeh had been a governor, but had since been removed. The government authority also drew attention to the criteria that any potential Tier 2 or Tier 4 visa sponsor must adhere to.
Current Home Office policies do state that unspent criminal convictions of key personnel can be taken into account when considering the issuance of a Tier 4 visa sponsorship licence.
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