The Home Secretary Theresa May is said to be proposing immigration reforms which will prevent non-EU students from working whilst studying in the UK, will force those students to leave immediately on finishing their courses and prevent dependents or spouses from working in the UK (although only those who accompany persons studying for more than one year are entitled to do so at present). Such an announcement is going down like a lead balloon for those in the Higher Education sector who see these latest proposals as yet another shot in the foot, given that education is one of the UK’s key exports.
May’s justification for introducing the measures is that of the 121,000 non-EU students, who arrived last year, only 51,000 left the UK, leaving a net influx of 70,000. The underlying policy, to crack down on visa fraud, is misaligned both with these reforms and with this justification.
Who exactly are these students who stay on in the UK after their degrees? Let’s take a look at the University of Oxford’s Law Faculty to see how many of the Law Faculty Posts are held by British/EU academics (see here). There are 43 Professors on this list, of who over a quarter are non-EU academics. These are some of the world’s most renowned, respected and exciting legal scholars. Think about that for a second. Or indeed, imagine the field of legal philosophy in the UK if it had been deprived of the teaching of (non-EU) greats like Joe Raz, Ronald Dworkin, Jeremy Waldron, John Finnis, John Rawls (to name a few). Or how boring life would be without Germaine Greer or how the Courts would have missed a presence like Lord Hoffmann?
Who exactly would want to deprive the UK of such persons by making it harder for them to stay and sending a message that they are not welcome anyway? Arbitrarily cutting numbers on the basis that ‘immigration is too high’ fails to appreciate the very clear beneficial impact of highly educated international persons on the UK. By all means, deal with Visa Fraud. But don’t link the entire net influx of 70,000 ex-students to it. Don’t shoot the goose who lays the golden egg.