Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Government Leaned on London Met to Remove Governor

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Government Leaned on London Met to Remove Governor

Article excerpt

UKBA threatened to refuse institution's visa licence. David Matthews and Colin Cortbus write

The government has been accused of "outrageous interference in a university's autonomy" after documents revealed that London Metropolitan University effectively faced "almost inevitable" insolvency by failing to regain its visa licence unless it removed a controversial governor from its board.

Jawad Botmeh was found guilty in 1996 of conspiracy to cause explosions in connection with two car bombings, one outside the Israeli Embassy in London, although he has always maintained his innocence.

In January 2013, having been employed by the university as a research manager for five years, the Palestinian was elected by staff to serve on the university's board.

The following month, the university suspended Mr Botmeh over the conviction alongside Max Watson, then chairman of London Met's Unison branch, for his role in giving Mr Botmeh a job.

After protests from supporters including MP Jeremy Corbyn, now leader of the Labour Party, London Met lifted both men's suspensions and said that Mr Botmeh was entitled to remain a governor.

But it has emerged that, according to council minutes, the Home Office's now-defunct UK Border Agency pressured London Met into removing Mr Botmeh from his elected role as a governor - which automatically made him a director of the university - because of concerns about his previous conviction.

Minutes of a board meeting on 14 March 2013, the first meeting Mr Botmeh attended, show that the governors discussed "feedback received from the UKBA with regard to Jawad Botmeh serving as a director of the university".

"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 minutes state.

At the time, London Met had applied for a new Tier 4 licence to sponsor international students, having been stripped of it the previous year. A Tier 2 licence allows a body to sponsor working visas for non-European Union nationals.

"Regaining the university's Tier 4 licence was critical to the future financial survival of the institution - without it, insolvency was almost inevitable," the minutes note. …

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