The Times is in a state of angst regarding the Government’s continuing crackdown on those overseas students who break the conditions of their visas. Its leading article on 13th October bemoans the negativity of a message that tells the rest of the world that Britain will enforce its immigration laws even if the true number of ‘over-stays’ is smaller than once believed. “Far from deterring foreigners from seeking to study here”, it trumpets, “Britain should be doing more to encourage and keep them.”
The argument for encouraging bright and well-schooled foreign students to study here is logical enough. Strangely, though, the newspaper appears somewhat reluctant to go very far in making its case. The editorial applies the usual ‘fall back’ position that tells only half the story:
“Foreign students who attend British colleges and universities under the present rules are a boon to Britain’s world-beating student culture. They contribute £11 billion a year to the economy, including 12 per cent of total university funding. Their skills are invaluable to an economy that will depend more than ever on international relationships, applied research and improved productivity.”
What’s not to like about recognising the need to import lots of foreign brainpower? I, for one, support the influx of talented overseas students and, indeed, of skilled immigrant labour. What worries me is the reason why we need to be quite so dependent on immigrants. The Times leader chose to ignore half of the argument in favour of its pro-immigration stance. One can only surmise that it is simply too embarrassed to make it.
Here, then, is the other half of the pro-immigration argument – the part that The Times could not bring itself to articulate. It clinches it case for more, not less, immigration and needs to be presented.
Good universities wish to attract the best students available. They are becoming tired of having to run remedial ‘catch-up’ courses for the products of British state schools. It is not much fun, after all, having to teach undergraduates how to write a sentence, use an apostrophe or apply mathematical formulae. It can be irritating to discover that your history class cannot name a single Prime Minister of the 19th century and identifies Magna Carta as Jimmy Carter’s wife. And what about those modern language students who cannot identify an adverb or, for that matter, any other parts of speech? Back in 2012 a survey conducted by Cambridge Assessment revealed that 60 per cent of higher education institutions were having to offer extra courses – particularly in literacy and numeracy – for their new students. From anecdotal evidence, at least, matters seem to have gone downhill since then. Universities have become, in part, institutions for remedial learning.
Why did The Times leader choose not to mention any of this as a most fundamental reason why we need to attract more overseas students to our universities? We know from OECD research that overseas youngsters can be up to three years ahead of ours by the age of 15. They are even further ahead of most young Brits by the time they start university. We can hardly blame universities for looking to foreign students to offset the depressing effect of having to teach too many UK-educated ‘thickos’.
The same situation applies lower down our educational food chain. Around 20 per cent of UK school leavers are, according to employer survey after employer survey, so poorly educated and so lacking in basic skills that they are unemployable. We desperately need educated and skilled immigrant labour, but not foreign welfare spongers, to fuel our economy.
The Times is justified in advancing the argument for immigration but its editorial team has reached a sorry state if it cannot admit to the “why?”