Term does not start for another fortnight – Freshers’ Week is next week – and so there are not that many of us in the library. Of those of us here I’d guess about 50%, perhaps more, are East Asian.
This is not a “yellow peril” story about how they’re-all-over-here-taking-our-university-places, but a reminder of how, despite the best efforts of the current UK coalition government, many thousands of overseas students still look to the UK as a centre of educational excellence.
Indeed our universities may be our most successful export industry of all.
Much more than just the financial health of the universities depends on keeping the UK’s reputation as a good place for overseas students: because if we damage the universities we will rot our science base, corrode our schools and trash any hopes that the current period of economic mid-winter can ever be replaced by sunnier times.
A few weeks ago “Sir” Andrew Green, rentagob for shady anti-immigration outfit “Migration Watch” – beloved of the broadcasters because its acceptable to put them on and not open racists and “Enoch was right” nutters – more or less admitted on the Today Programme that the only basis on which to oppose foreign students coming to Britain was because you don’t like foreigners much. He certainly accepted that student migration to the UK was of economic benefit. It’s about time a few more voices from the business and political establishment had the courage to tell Green and his ilk that they might want to condemn the country to long term economic misery and decline but they do not.
A lot of politicians feel that dealing with race is all too difficult and some even lurch towards the Gordon Brown mess of rhetoric that borders on the offensive – “British jobs for British workers” – in the hope that will divert attention from the real policy of having an open, trading, economy. Well, I know it is not easy to win the arguments but that is not an excuse for not trying. Personally I believe that it is possible to win an argument for an open economy with high levels of migration, matched with effective immigration controls. And I believe that because I saw Tony Blair do it, at close quarters, in the 2005 general election campaign. In any case, when it comes to bigotry politicians must realise they are fighting a bear and give up when the bear gets tired, not when they are.