International Student Immigration – ‘There’s more than just money at stake’

I was listening to BBC Radio 4 this morning and there was no dearth of angles to the their coverage on the story about London Metropolitan University’s licence being revoked as part of British government plans to reach its target in reducing international students.

While most news organisations emphasised human-interest case studies about the future of these students jeopardized, and a further £12.5 billion economic impact on UK’s education industry, what caught my attention was Radio 4’s Thought for the Day by Reverend Dr. Michael Banner, Dean and Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.

Citing a passage from the Book of Acts, he focused on how it could serve as a mission statement for the admissions policy of universities. In the 13th century, he reflected, the University of Paris was founded on the principles of universal education advocated by the Book, offering a universe of subjects to students displaying a commitment to truth and wisdom rather than national loyalties.

An international student myself, I arrived in England two years ago to pursue Broadcast Journalism at Sheffield Hallam University. I never experienced any hostility and lack of communication from admission officers, on the contrary they transcended all expectations in trying to ensure my arrival and stay and that of many international students was a memorable one.

However, what I couldn’t understand is that despite the stringent criterion for English fluency, there were students in my modules that struggled with comprehension and fluent communication. I’m not entirely sure if they understood the lectures, or if at all they ever cleared the semester, but I would expect that the university would have done the necessary checks to admit them to a Masters programme. But I also thought: was this something that was disregarded in order to secure international funds? Perhaps an endemic failure in most universities? This is a question many politicians fail to ask.

Another report from BBC Asia Correspondent Rajni Vaidyanathan on Radio 4’s Today Programme highlighted the views of a 22 year old Mumbai resident Mohit Basir, who is looking for a specialisation in renewable energy overseas, however isn’t very keen on universities in Britain as a result of recent events.

Despite Britain being a hub for education, with a host to some of the best universities in the world, the trend is changing. At a time when the country’s economic growth forecasts are at a standstill, the country needs to look beyond immigration. If it wishes to attract the brightest and the best, tighter immigration policies and procedures will do nothing more than dissuade exceptional talent from entering this country. There are endemic failures in its admission procedures which universities need to tackle.

As Dr. Banner points out: “The irony then is that the insecurities and conflicts of modern times, which lead us to police our borders and our universities ever more robustly, are themselves the products of the divisions, suspicions and misunderstandings against which universities originally stood.”

Understandably, the country is trying both to get its people back to work and to protect the interests of British citizens, however if this is to be done by raising international barriers, the country has only set itself up for further decline.

From a business point of view the implications for foreign investment and international trade relations are huge. At a time when David Cameron is on his knees to attract international investors and create jobs and growth, as seen in his speech at the British Business Embassy on the eve of the Olympics, events such as these serve as a deterrent for investors.

Britain has already seen a surge of international investors, mergers and acquisitions in the past decade – Jaguar land Rover ( India), Asda ( U.S.), MG Rover (China), P&O Ports (Dubai), the British Airports Authority (Spain), Corus (formerly British Steel, to India), British Energy (France), and lottery operator Camelot (Canada).

A few years from now, some of these international students are likely to be the next generation of entrepreneurs, decision makers and business leaders in business. Mohit in the interview goes on to say, “This isn’t good for Britain, when we grow up we will remember this, it will be fresh in our minds that when we wanted to study and were looking for options, for a mutual benefit, a country like the UK denied us because they assumed we wanted to settle in and infringe upon their economy.”

Again, as Dr. Banner points out, it goes beyond the financial impact on British universities. “There is however more than just money at stake in ensuring that even with appropriate regulation our universities remain international – for me it’s a matter of keeping alive that vision and spirit of universal human cooperation and community just at a time when borders, and consequently suspicions, seem to be getting stronger, ” he said.

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