Recently I attended a talk as part of the ‘Warwick Festival of the Imagination’ on the threats to and future of Higher Education. One of the main issues that was discussed was the threat of Theresa May’s new migration laws that are coming into effect and how they will affect international students. It was believed by various people that these are going to damage British Universities as they lose international students as a source of income. Professor Abhinay Muthoo, the Head (Chair) of the University of Warwick’s Economics Department described the situation as ‘May is in the way’ of UK universities growing and talked of how he fears that British Universities may inevitably shrink as a result of this.
The UK has a high standard of universities, which is why we attract a lot of international students. These international students are not just important to our universities, but also to the economy as a whole. Universities contributed £73 billion worth of output to the UK economy of which international students – referring to Non-EU citizens – were responsible for roughly £13.9bn in 2011. UK universities were also responsible for 2.8% of our GDP in 2011 according to the group Universities UK. This is not to mention the value that Higher Education has on our economy as a whole, as people train to become doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers and so on which allows for long run economic growth and stability.
This doesn’t even mention the greater benefits that movement of people has for us, which is to allow all students of all nations the opportunity to meet and befriend people from all over the globe. Frédéric Bastiat is often credited with the saying, ‘When goods don’t cross borders, Soldiers will’ (though whether or not he actually said this is a different matter). But the sentiment that this quote is trying to get at is that isolationism, and shutting yourself off from the world makes you more unstable. Indeed, one of the best parts about free trade and free movement is that it promotes ideas of peace amongst nations as they start to rely more on one another for resources, economic interests mean that states are less likely to go to war with one another. This is also the case for greater movement of persons as well. As you get to experience different cultures and get to know people from all over the world, you start to see people as people and not just as an abstract group.
Also crucial to the discussion is what universities meant to be about. For me it has been to challenge all ideas and to be a constant source of discussion on a whole host of issues. International students are crucial to this. People come from all over the world to universities where they are able to meet and discuss ideas – international students often bring an outside perspective on things that can change the narrative, or shed new light on an issue. If Universities are about challenging ideas, creating new ones and generally allowing people a wider education, then we want international students to be coming here to help provide us with this insight.
The danger of Theresa May’s migration plans is that some of this funding is going to be cut off. Universities are crucial to the UK economy; they serve as a valuable import and helps fund universities that will provide education and training for individuals who are most likely going to be providing services for this country for the next half a century. By decreasing the amount of international students, you cut off a valuable source of income for many of the UK’s Higher Education institutions. This could mean that as a result Britain’s honoured universities may inevitably shrink, which is not what we want if we want to be able to compete on a global scale. Universities are crucial to our long run prosperity and Theresa May’s plan puts them at risk.