Imagine university life without international students; no more foreign crushes, fewer accents to make fun of, a decline in offers of suspicious local alcohols, culminating, its fair to say, in a void once occupied by life-long friends. A deeply toxic, and ugly, culture of isolationism and anti-intellectualism is threatening these things and more, every day hitting our towns and cities through the tabloid press and pandering to a vocal minority at the expense of international students and everyone else.
Recently at a House of Lords committee meeting hosted by Educating Beyond Borders, the damage being done to Britain’s international students by this ideology was laid bare. It emerged that bizarre new lengths are being taken to surpass simply the indignity of being uprooted and booted out after graduation as now some people are being forced out before completing their degree! This has unfortunately come about as many students need to complete a work placement before attaining a degree but the UK government has refused to recognise this as part of the course. This is just part of a campaign by the government to cut immigration figures, which international students are included in, by deliberately making it more difficult to study in the UK and remain after study.
It is has a real impact upon us all too, as most universities cannot sustain themselves without the extra income from international students and may be forced to drastically reduce the number of available courses if this were to continue further. Business people gave a stark warning too, that this brain drain will inevitably create a skills shortage forcing high paying jobs to relocate to Europe and elsewhere. Among representatives of the public sector too there was concern that our NHS, our schools and our infrastructure could fall into ruin in pursuit of a Fortress Britain. Confusingly there seemed to be a consensus in the room among people from all backgrounds despite this apparently being the ‘will of the people’, but there was one sole defending voice in the room, a representative from the government who defended this strategy by throwing out meaningless phrases about tough choices. It seemed, I fear, that their presence was more to give an illusion of consultation and debate in order to stifle the real thing.
The promise of a ‘Global Britain’ has been churned out by government post-Brexit, but surely to realise this vision a path that doesn’t cause the Chinese media to nickname Theresa May ‘Student Hater’ is needed. A Global Britain must play to all its advantages, and already having a 10% share in all international students, which adds up to a £3.5 billion industry feeding into all other aspects of national life, is not something to gamble with for a few cheap votes. Like so many other issues out there among the hustle of the post-Brexit parliament our collective voices barely rose to a whisper. The whisper though, is there. We need students, we need graduates, we need you to make a whisper into a roar.