The National Union of Students: Saviours of London Met? Perhaps Not

Some international students at London Metropolitan University were recently granted a reprieve from the withdrawing of their immigration license. At the preliminary hearing, the claim was allowed to proceed as a full case. More importantly an injunction was granted, with the acquiescence of the Home Office, on the part of the UK Border Agency. This allowed current students who have a legitimate right to study in the UK to remain for this academic year. The National Union of Students claimed responsibility for this ‘victory’, claiming that this was due to their intervention and campaigning surrounding this case.

The NUS spent around £50,000 on making third party submissions to this preliminary hearing. They suggested that by arguing from an independent perspective as ‘expert’ representatives for students, they changed the outcome of the case.

But this claim does not appear to have much truth in it. Had they not been involved, the injunction might have been stronger, and more long-lasting.

Ultimately, an injunction was not secured with the strength and effect that London Met applied for. Not all students registered with the University are assumed to automatically be legitimate and, of those identified as being legitimate, all would only be guaranteed 12 months further study at London Met. This is problematic for those wishing to continue.

However the most troubling is an implicit issue. London Met still remains upon a financial precipice, and unable to recruit more International Students. This will have an ongoing impact upon the education of all the students enrolled there, whether or not they are from the EU.

Given that the High Court Judge would have almost certainly had to grant an injunction of some form, as a result of agreeing the case as being arguable (and therefore allowing it to proceed), the outcome was effectively the worst outcome that London Met, and its students at large, could have hoped for.

According to their lawyers, the NUS intervened to “enable the students’ perspective to be heard by the Court”. The only real arguments that they could have made from that perspective is essentially a repeat of the position that any reasonable lawyer would argue on the part of London Met, namely that this would have an unjust negative impact upon students (and the University itself).

It was not as if London Met were employing ineffectual lawyers, indeed it appears that they were employing the very best counsel. In issuing public press statements prior to the court hearing, the NUS were effectively suggesting – in public – that the High Court judge was incapable of realising the impact that this would have on students.

So in effect, what the NUS did was complicate a court hearing by showing up as a third party, and publically attacked the presiding Judge before the hearing began. It is difficult for the NUS to claim that they improved the chances of London Met’s students under these circumstances, when looking closely; the evidence is that they spent an eye-watering amount (£50,000 for a single day in court, presumably on the advice of the same lawyers they paid that sum to) of public money mostly doing the opposite.

Most troubling is the fact that the NUS were allowed to intervene (according to their press releases) as ‘experts’ and as a ‘students’ voice. This is at best a tenuous claim, and whilst different representations might have actually been made to the court, this is very concerning.

Most students are detached from the NUS and the politics of its constituent Unions. The one occasion where the NUS has taken up a quasi-legal role – namely the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education– they have seriously undermined the student interest by being involved in an organisation that routinely fails to uphold student complaints, takes longer than an undergraduate degree to investigate them, and was recently found by the NUS’ own Disabled Students Campaign to systematically discriminate against the disabled students.

The fact is, at least in the legal setting, the NUS is contrary to the interests of students, and should not be intervening in court cases as if it were to be a professional body of some substantive standing. All this does is diminish the future prospects of Students or Lecturers who may need to seek legal redress in future.

Indeed, the one benefit that the NUS has managed to gain from this is a round of excellent publicity – even if this is mostly untrue. If the goal of the NUS was to turn our courtrooms into a new forum for student politics, then they were certainly successful. However, if their aim was instead to support the interests of students at large, or London Met, then the evidence suggests that they have failed miserably.

Reuben Kirkham

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