An Oxford academic has come out in opposition to the current UK visa system. Timothy Garton Ash, Professor of European Studies and fellow at St Anthony’s college made several comments on David Cameron and the coalition’s policies regarding immigration and visa control, calling it “stupid, incoherent, short-sighted, cack-handed, intrusive and counter-productive.”
Professor Garton Ash’s comments come in light of stringent new rules regarding international students coming to the UK to study. Students must now provide qualifications confirming their fluency in English and financial credentials to prove that they can pay for their course, as well as proof of a place to study. This is known as a Tier 4 visa and is required for any non-EU student to study at a UK University.
This, he claims, has led to a decrease in the numbers of international students coming here to study. An example cited was the 24% drop in students coming from India in the academic year 2013/2014.
He criticised David Cameron’s policy, saying it was a “careless, populist election promise”, in reference to Cameron’s promise to reduce migration from the hundreds of thousands of incoming migrants to the tens of thousands.
The Home Office also came under attack for its treatment of international students. Garton Ash cited incidents such as arbitrary and unfair English tests, the retention of students’ passports for months at a time and students having to leave the country literally the day after the end of their course.
Garton Ash also argued that international students should not be considered in the same category as asylum seekers, “The student questions must be addressed on its own merits”. If incoming and outgoing migrants were counted more accurately then, in Garton Ash’s words “student numbers would be treated separately”.
He highlighted the importance of international students to the UK in economic terms and in the prestige that they bring to our University sector. He underlined the critical nature of the higher education sector to the UK economy and the UK’s reputation, saying, “hosting foreign students has a cost but the UK’s universities are a vital part of Britain’s soft power, along with film, literature, music, sport and the BBC.”
Some Oxford students have expressed their agreement on the basis of the importance of international students, both to the UK and to their home country.
Worried about the damage that will be done to the learning environment at UK universities, Shivani Haria, PPE Society Social Secretary, said, “it does seem that the coalition is trying to score cheap political points without being honest to the public. By restricting the pool of students you not only homogenise the student population but the UK may lose out on the contributions of some of the best students.”
However, she also argued for the prioritisation of asylum seekers over international students, “Whilst it would be best if we could allow both asylum seekers and students into this country from an ethical point of view we need to prioritise providing a home for people whose human rights are being abused over those who are coming for a better education”.
Singapore-based biochemist Amrita Dasgupta stressed the importance of the intercultural dimension brought to a University by international students, telling Cherwell, “A better understanding of different cultures will result in better cooperation between people, and by extension countries”. She also underlined the economic benefits of international students: “local businesses generate huge amounts of revenue from us as well I believe, whether it be private student accommodation sites or aeroplane companies due to large amounts of travel”.
Finally she warned of the potential loss to be made in the visa system itself, if visas were made any more expensive or difficult to get, “Visa fees are a substantial amount of money, the government itself, I believe, would stand to lose quite a lot of money in visa fees if it became more expensive and difficult to apply for them.”