The UK has failed in its duty to overseas students affected by the decision to revoke London Metropolitan University's sponsor licence, a leading vice-chancellor has said.
Professor Eric Thomas, president of Universities UK (UUK), asked how the UK would have reacted if their own sons and daughters faced a similar situation in another country.
His comments came as Universities Minister David Willetts announced a £2 million fund to support London Met's international students who must now transfer to another university.
The UK Border Agency announced at the end of August that it is revoking London Met's highly trusted status for sponsoring international students after it found more than a quarter of a sample of its students did not have permission to stay in the country.
London Met has since announced that it intends to take legal action against the decision so that its students can return to study "as a matter of urgency." Up to 2,600 foreign students are understood to have been affected by UKBA's decision.
Addressing the UUK conference at Keele University on Thursday morning, Prof Thomas, who is also vice-chancellor of Bristol University, said: "Around 3,000 students, of whom the overwhelming majority were bona fide students, found themselves in a foreign country far from home without a course.
"I have had no rational explanation of how that fulfilled our duties to them as human beings never mind as students.
"Everyone involved in this needs to remind themselves that families have paid for these courses and that, for these students, this is one of their major lifetime chances. Let's all ponder on how we would have reacted if that had happened to our sons and daughters in a foreign country. Why were their needs not given absolute primacy in all these considerations?" I would argue that we all have been found wanting in our duties to these students."
In his speech to the conference, Mr Willetts said that it is important not to "lose sight of the individual students who are most affected by the situation". These students could incur costs for moving accommodation and applying for new visas, he said.
"I can announce today that we are setting up a £2 million fund to help legitimate overseas students at London Met who face extra costs through no fault of their own as a result of transferring to another institution. This will provide certainty to London Met students at what is a stressful and unsettling time."