British universities fall victim to immigration reform

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March 6, 2013 by Nash Riggins

In the last two years, three British universities have been removed from the rankings of the world’s top 100. Why? Higher education groups say it’s because more funding is needed so that British institutions can compete with American and Asian universities; however, given the UK’s newfound obsession with warding off foreigners, it’s safe to say those funds will never materialise.

In 2010, Conservatives made a promise to British voters that they would implement a cap on the number of foreigners trying to live and work in the UK. In fact, by the next election in 2015, David Cameron and Theresa May say they want to reduce net immigration in the UK to less than 100,000. Irrational Romanian scares aside, the dynamic duo are finally making progress.

Last week, Conservatives were left celebrating the first landmark success in achieving their 2010 promise to keep out foreigners, after the Office for National Statistics reported that net immigration had dropped by a third. The figures showed that visas issued for the purpose of studying at British universities – the most common reason foreigners wanted to enter the country – fell by a whopping 20%.

As foreigners have been known to pay more than double what British citizens pay for their degrees, this is awful news for UK universities – and suggests that the budgets of Britain’s learning institutions will only shrink further still. After all, under current government rules, English universities are only allowed to charge UK and EU citizens a maximum yearly tuition of £9,000 – and in Northern Ireland, locals get charged just £3,575 per year. How much do foreigners pay? According to UCAS, literally as much as universities want to charge them.

In fact, an international student earning a clinical degree in the UK is currently paying their university anywhere from £10,000 to £25,000 per year. Hell, a standard engineering degree from Oxford – apparently one of the only nine UK institutions worthy of international acclaim – costs foreigners at least £24,707 per year. Given these hefty sums, it’s a wonder that money-hungry politicians don’t want Britain’s universities to be left exclusively for the use of international students – especially in Scotland, where locals pay absolutely nothing for their degrees. With that level of funding, it’s no wonder only one Scottish institution made the list of the world’s top 100 universities.

Regardless of the mixed signals David Cameron opts to shower over aspiring students in Asia, it’s fair to say that the UK is becoming more and more unwelcome to foreigners. That’s all well and good for the nation’s xenophobic voters, but it’s also worth noting that, in scaring off foreigners, the Home Office is consequently chasing away the much-needed funding that British universities need in order to grow.

Last year, the UK had 12 universities in the world’s top 100 – and just one year on, that number has been reduced to nine. If the Tories get their way, will that number fall to six in 2014? It doesn’t take an economist to work out that Britain’s poor show in the Times Higher Education’s top 100 rankings is a direct result of the government’s financially reckless decision to try and keep out wealthy immigrants. But this self-inflicted academic decline has been a long time coming, and no one on Downing Street should feign surprise that foreigners are finally starting to notice. Higher education groups say this can be reversed by a surge in university funding; however, unless Westminster opts to perform a u-turn on its immigration reform, it’s safe to say that British universities will only continue to tumble further and further down the league tables.

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