Guest Post: by Valerie Hartwich. Valerie is convenor of the ‘Visiting artists and academics’ campaign of the Manifesto Club and writes the Free Movement blog at their website. This post is the second response published here to the Government’s consultation on Student Immigration. The deadline for responses to the consultation is 31 January 2011.
For months now a clampdown on the student migrant route has been expected. Finally, a consultation on capping tier 4 was announced last month. Facing pressure by the business lobby but intent on keeping their migration electoral promise, Damian Green and Theresa May had long prepared the ground by repeatedly mentioning just how many non-EEA students come and stay in the UK after their studies. In doing so, they had been working public opinion into a dam against the strong opposition they know they will face, in order to pass a series of worrying proposals.
Recently the government announced that, to reach its aim of tens of thousands of migrants per year, it needed to reduce the number of international students. Its main victims will be under degree levels individuals, who have come to be associated in the public mind with bogus students thanks to sensational stories in the press. The other justification for doing so are the numbers of migrants staying on for up to five years after their original visa, which Damian Green all but called over-stayers.
Educational providers, however, claim that a large number of those starting off on English courses go on to Further or Higher Education. This is a polite, but fierce war on words and figures. If the government succeeds, it will further spread the feeling that the UK is turning into a protectionist country, whose sole interest in things foreign rests with money. And a few thousand UK residents’ jobs will vanish as schools see student numbers drop. By and large, the government’s plan to cap foreign students is a sign of ideological zeal. Most of these students are genuine, and if they do work whilst here, it’s under already strict conditions to bear the high cost of living in this country. As both the UKCISA and Nicola Dandridge of Universities UK have publicly said, they are not economical migrants, and thus should not fall victim to a populist campaign to ‘save British jobs for British workers’.
As a previous piece by JCWI already stated the proposed cap also contains restrictions to be applied to all applicants, many showing a concerning degree of both total incomprehension for the reality of education, and disregard for basic human rights. We shall pick but a few, though all are problematic at various levels.
Based on criteria as yet unknown, the proposed cap could see the introduction of low and high risk categories of migrants, to respectively benefit from a ‘light touch’ and a more thorough treatment of their applications. One can only speculate this be on the basis of previously accumulated evidence of forgery and abuse cases by country, which seems both unfair on other applicants with the same ‘profile’, and discriminatory for those from regions or countries where corruption, state failure or inefficiency plagues administration, often making it difficult for individuals to comply with the regulations of a country where we live in the comfort of a stable economy and political system, and efficient bureaucracies.
The Home office also wants to restrict international students to working on campus during term weekdays, where jobs are limited and often unrelated to their studies. This disadvantage compared to Home/EU students in terms of study related experience comes on top of a proposal to reduce the ratio between study and work placement. Will this apply to foreign nationals only or to all students in order to be workable? In any instance this is a clear state infringement on academic autonomy, and a damageable idea for students who need to gather as much experience as possible in this highly competitive job market.
Finally, the proposal suggests international students could be subjected to an academic progress tracking system, handled by their university, in order to ensure that their continued studies in the UK is not an excuse to remain in the country, but actually follows a progression in degrees. However, academic progression is not a mere factor of evolution from undergraduate to masters onto PhD levels. A well-rounded education and expertise in a field might require studying two separate masters. Will this still be possible if this proposal is adopted?
Yet again, the government is seeking to impose discriminatory and damageable measures because of a supposed mandate by its electorate. Their effects could be devastating both for the educational sector, for the UK’s image and for our moral compass. Let’s make our voices heard by using the consultation and campaigning fiercely on this new front.