Friday, 25 March 2011

International Students and the Coalition Government

BBC News article: Germany top for foreign students

Apparently Germany is the place to go to university--even if you only speak English. They have entire degree courses taught in English, and they've just been rated the most supportive country for international students on a league table. Another bonus: they don't charge tuition fees, even for international students.
Meanwhile, UK universities are raising fees for home and foreign students, and the government is trying to reduce the numbers of student visas--despite the fact that international students contribute huge £££ and make up huge numbers of postgrad students (the postgrads in my own department are mostly international, and the same thing is going on over at the business school, just to name a couple of examples here at Leeds).

Public diplomacy organisations, like the British Council, understand the value of foreign students. The article quotes the Council's director of higher education:

"an increase in international partnerships between universities has become a global trend. These partnerships can then become pathways, establishing a route for exchanges between students and staff.

For the UK's universities, she says overseas students are becoming particularly important for postgraduate courses.

"It's a hugely important trend, bringing students to the UK and supporting the research base. It's internationalising the whole system, she says.

It's a picture in which globalisation will "intensify" she says, expecting both more competition and collaboration between university systems."

And by 'supporting the research base', I think they mean 'contributing lots of money'...

So why the disparity on views of foreign students between the coalition government and the British Council? From a public diplomacy standpoint, foreign students are valuable--they encourage positive relationships between countries & mutual understanding between peoples of different countries. From an economic standpoint, foreign students are valuable--they pay more in fees than domestic students. Even if you don't charge fees, as is the case in Germany, they're still contributing to the economy simply by spending their foreign money to live in your country. I really don't understand what's going on here. What's the motivation against foreign students? What are the downsides to letting them come study in the UK? Are there British postgraduate applicants who are getting turned down because foreign students are taking their places? Somehow I don't think that's the case...

A few weeks ago PM David Cameron said he agreed with German Chancellor Angela Merkel's assessment that 'multiculturalism has failed.' His comments were directed at certain elements of radical Islam, like the homegrown terrorists behind the 7/7 London tube bombings. But the same day he made his comments, the English Defence League was holding a demonstration in Luton. (For those outside the UK, the EDL thinks if you're not white, then you're not English--and Luton is an ethnically-diverse area north of London). It might be a terrible coincidence that the event was taking place at the time that Cameron made his comments, but for a PR-savvy man like Cameron is, it seemed more like bad taste rather than bad timing. Are the coalition's proposed visa changes protectionist (creating more spaces for British students), or are they representative of a larger ideology that distrusts multiculturalism?

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