The British government was warned that the UK's reputation as a world-class centre for higher education faced irreparable damage, as over 2,500 foreign students fought desperately to avoid deportation after the sudden cancellation of their visas.
The students, who were given 60 days to take up alternative courses or be forcibly removed from the UK, had all enrolled at the London Metropolitan University, which lost its right to teach all non-EU foreign students in a dramatic action by Border Agency for failing to comply with visa rules.
According to stranded students, they were being treated unfairly as they had been given permission to study in the UK after paying tens of thousands of pounds in fees and costs for the chance to do so. The government has moved to set up a task force of business and education bodies for the identification of genuine students and helping them enroll elsewhere. However, London Met may be hit with legal action from aggrieved students seeking refunds in the tens of millions of pounds, warned lawyers.
Concerns were also raised that the government's determination to crack down on immigration could hit the finances of other universities reliant on the higher fees paid by foreign students to balance their books.
The vice-chancellor of London Met, Malcolm Gillies, warned that the future of the university, with 30,000 students, since it could end up taking a £30 million hit to its budget.
Foreign students brought an estimated £12.5 billion into the UK economy every year and no matter how this was dressed up, the damaging message that the UK deports foreign students from its universities would reach all corners of the globe, according to Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union.