By Alice Perry
It has been made abundantly clear by the Tory/Lib Dem coalition that it does not value higher education. Not content with tripling tuition fees and cutting teaching budgets by up to 85%, the government is planning tough restrictions on visas for international students. In doing so, they are not only depriving educational institutions of much needed revenue, but jeopardising the UK’s global standing, undermining international capacity building, and reducing the quality of the educational experience available to UK students.
International students are acknowledged as a lucrative source of income to the UK’s under funded universities. While international students are worth £100million to the UK economy, their value to the UK is far greater than this significant financial return. Higher Education and Further Education institutions play a vital role in international capacity building through the education and training they offer international students. This is particularly significant for students from low and middle-income countries.
The government has argued that educating students from outside the EU creates “brain drain”, where the brightest students stay in the UK and deprive their home countries of their talent. This is simply not the case. I work at a university that has alumni in over 190 countries. Around 10% of our graduates live in Africa, where the vast majority work in health and international development. The high quality training they received in the UK enables them to better serve their own communities. Our eye health centre educated up tp 80% of Nigeria’s ophthalmologists. These ophthalmologists are not living in the UK, scrounging benefits, sponging off the state or stealing jobs of UK graduates. They are working in their home countries improving the quality of local healthcare and contributing to the delivery of the Millennium Development Goals. This capacity building is repeated at universities and colleges up and down the country. Put simply, British universities’ international alumni make the world a better place.
If the Tory/Lib Dem coalition was serious about international development they would invest heavily in scholarships and partnerships with students, academics and researchers in low and middle-income countries. Instead, they are talking about channelling the DFID budget to prop-up defence spending. The UK has a phenomenal resource in its network of British educated international alumni. This graduate network could be used to promote and champion the UK’s interests overseas. Our achievements in international education should be celebrated and an enormous source of national pride. Instead the government’s obsession with drastically reducing net migration leaves the UK at risk of turning its back on the world. This policy would be dangerous at the best of times. Given the fragility of the global economy and the increasing competition from economies in Asia, it could prove disastrous.
The academic experience of UK students can be greatly enriched by interaction with international students. International students bring with them an international perspective. Peer to peer learning can be as instructive as traditional academic teaching. Diversity of ideas and experience fuels innovation. UK students should not be deprived of the chance to enjoy a stimulating multicultural academic environment.
The Tory/Lib Dem coalition is made up of predominately wealthy white, male, public school educated, Oxbridge graduates. It is obvious that this government does not appreciate the value of diversity. It is a real shame that they do not value the wonderful contribution international students make to the UK (and global) society. Contrary to the current government policy, we should be seeking to recruit international students in far greater numbers.