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Recently announced government proposals to slash the numbers of international students have met with a backlash from the LUSU officers, who have released a joint statement slamming the government’s attempts to turn Britain from a “big, outward looking country into a small, irrelevant island”
“Already the Home Secretary talks of a register of international workers and shaming organisations – like this university – that employ people from overseas. We believe we’re at our best when we work with the best, no matter where they’re from”
“That’s why we attract some of the best students from all over the world and is the reason that Lancaster is able to offer world-class teaching. And that’s why we’ve worked with the university to launch We Are Lancaster – a campaign that aims to shine a light on the things that unite us all, not the things that divide us”
With close to 30% of Lancaster university made up of international students – one of the highest rates in the country – there’s no doubt this is an issue close to home for this university and its union officers. But is the public on their side in light of the success of the anti-immigration campaign that resulted in a Leave vote in June?
Unambiguously yes according to polling released two weeks ago by Universities UK, with 62% calling for international student levels to stay the same or increase. This increased to 76% when the participants were given information about the effect they have – the same report asserts that international students generate £11 billion for the British economy.
So what does the government believe justifies this apparently unpopular move? Announcing the proposals, the Home Secretary Amber Rudd claimed that she was “passionately committed to making sure our world-leading institutions can attract the brightest and the best.
“But a student immigration system that treats every student and university as equal only punishes those we should want to help. And we need to look at whether this generous offer for all universities is really adding value to our economy”
The proposals haven’t gone unnoticed – the day after her speech one Indian newspaper ran a feature on why Britain was no longer a suitable place for potential international students. Meanwhile, the fallout over May’s proposals reach across the political spectrum – speaking on a recent visit to Lancaster University former Lib Dem communities minister Lord Stunnel criticised the policy as “not making any sense for the government, the country and especially universities”
“It doesn’t help the government to keep out people who are just passing through. And the universities lose out on fees which are supporting courses many British students benefit from”
But it’s unlikely a government that has made cutting immigration its first priority following the referendum will be willing to listen. Theresa May has pledged to cut immigration levels, and for this Brexit government, that appears to be taking priority over the economy, the advice of experts and academics, and the health of Britain’s world-class university system.