From The Telegraph U.K.
Terror plot raises questions over student visas
The latest airline bomb plot by a terrorist with British connections raises serious questions about the UK’s controversial student visa system.
By Martin Evans
Published: 3:22PM GMT 27 Dec 2009
Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, who comes from a wealthy family in Nigeria, was already showing signs of extremist views when he was granted a visa to study mechanical engineering at University College London in 2005.
After completing his studies in 2008 he traveled to the Middle East before applying to return to the UK in May for another six month course.
However, his request was refused by officials from the UK Borders Agency as he was attempting to enroll on a course being offered by an institution on the Government’s list of bogus colleges.
Despite the fact his entry was barred, questions still remain over the system which has seen more than one and a half million visas granted to overseas students during the last eight years.
Earlier this year a report by the Home Affairs Select Committee criticised the Government for failing to deal adequately with the explosion in bogus colleges springing up across the UK.
Keith Vaz, chairman of the committee said: “The government must restrict the term college to prevent any premises above a fish and chip shop from being able to claim it is a reputed educational institution.”
It is feared tens of thousands of foreign nationals have gained entry to Britain illegally under the scheme, with many avoiding detection and never leaving.
In March tighter restrictions were introduced cutting the number of institutions allowed to recruit students from outside the UK.
But critics believe the new points based register has done little to close the system’s gaping loopholes.
Around 3,000 educational institutions across the UK have been granted licenses under the points based system but there are only 62 officials employed to vet the colleges and their 13,500 employees.
MPs have welcomed efforts to improve the system, but in their report expressed concern that inspectors were giving notice to colleges before visits.
Sir Andrew Green, Chairman of Migrationwatch has also been deeply critical of the system which he said provided a “gaping hole” in our immigration system.
He said: “We now issue 370,000 student visas a year – almost the entire population of Bristol or Manchester – yet hardly any of the applicants ever see hide nor hair of an Immigration Officer.”
There is also widespread concern that many legitimate universities and colleges are providing fertile recruiting grounds for radical Islamic preachers and banned groups.
Radicalisation among students has been a problem since the 1990s, with many of those involved in terror plots being highly educated graduates.
Three of the July 7 bombers attended university as did most of the gang which planned a fertiliser bomb attack on the Bluewater shopping Centre and the Ministry of Sound nightclub.
Ahmed Omar Sheikh, convicted of the kidnap and murder of the journalist Daniel Pearl, was a former student at London School of Economics, and Waseem Mughal, convicted of running a website for al-Qaeda in Iraq, was a former biochemistry student at Leicester University.
Mughal was a member of the university Islamic society, and the fertiliser bomber Jawad Akbar attended Islamic society meetings at Brunel University, while Yassin Nassari, convicted of smuggling plans for a Qassam rocket into Britain, was president of the University of Westminster’s Islamic society at its Harrow campus in Northwest London.
The gang convicted of the plot to bring down transatlantic airliners in 2006 are also believed to have engaged in radical activities while at university.
Ringleader Abdulla Ahmed Ali, became radicalised as a teenager in East London, later completing a degree in computer systems engineering at City University.
The plot’s bomb maker Assad Sarwar studied briefly at Brunel University in West London, while the quartermaster Tanvir Hussain studied business and information systems at Middlesex University in north west London.
A recent study by the Centre for Social Cohesion found that a third of Muslim university students believed killing in the name of religion could be justified.
The disturbing findings of the survey also found a large proportion were in favour of the introduction of Sharia law in the UK.
Following publication of the report, its co-author Hannah Stuart said: “Students in higher education are the future leaders of their communities yet significant numbers of them appear to hold beliefs which contravene liberal, democratic values.
“In addition there are signs of growing religious segregation on campus. These results are deeply embarrassing for those who have said that there is no extremism in British universities.”