Monday, 28 March 2011

The Importance of Tradition for British Universities

Great Britain has always been good at preserving its traditions. Taking tourists to see Big Ben in London in red buses, teaching English to international students in prison-like boarding schools, making roast dinner each Sunday and uniting people of all races and nationalities in pubs all across the country to watch Manchester United play Arsenal over a pint of beer-these constitute only a small part of centuries-old traditions which makes Britain truly Great.

Whether you are coming to the UK to live, work or study, the country offers you a ‘complete package’ in the form of the fusion of many cultures which promises to make your stay in Britain very unique. As for UK universities, they are world famous for the quality of their programs as well as their diverse student body which sets top institutions apart from their Ivy League competitors.

Did you know that Edinburgh University welcomes around 25,000 students, 20% of which are international? Such openness to foreign students does not only benefit international and British students who get to explore different cultures as a preparation to their global careers, but also serves as a huge benefit to the UK, which attracts many talented individuals who increasingly contribute to the development of a new, large export industry - higher education.

Recently, FT calculated that the tuition fees paid by the overseas students were the 2nd highest revenues collected in 2010 following financial services, a shocking figure! However, recent proposals by the UK Government to limit the number of working visas issued to non-EU citizens to 21,700 Tier 1 in 2011 (20% reduction) caused a new wave of discontent.

The argument behind such radical measures is based on a theory that a decrease in immigration of skilled workers (including graduates from UK universities) will help UK citizens to find jobs in depressed economy. However, many academic studies proved such theories wrong using empirical evidence to claim that immigration does not affect employment for local citizens (if interested, see papers by Christian Dustmann, Francesca Fabbri and Ian Preston). On the contrary to that, others consider visa plans as ‘hostage against British Universities’.

Reduction of student visas being issued is most likely to devastate pre-university pathway courses as well as have a serious impact on a reduction of number of students admitted to undergraduate programs costing the country billions of pounds in tuition fees and other income. Overseas students contribute to the local economy enormously in fees, rents and living expenses, so it is not surprising that Government’s actions are most likely to spike further public outburst.

Countries already began showing their discontent with the measures. Last week, India took up issue with the new UK student visa curbs. Major stake-holders in Britain have opposed the measures that are likely to result in thousands job losses and a cut in the annual contribution of 5 billion(!) pounds to the British economy from the international student market.

Recently, LSE surveyed all its overseas students (from outside the UK and the EU) to gather views on the recent UK Border Agency's consultation on changes to the student immigration system and found out that abandonment of post-study visa (PSV) will most likely result in less overseas applicants, as many students choose UK over US/Canada/Australia precisely because of the attractiveness of PSV. Moreover, research shows that due to the specifics of particular positions, there are actually very few jobs taken by post-study visa holders would have otherwise gone to unemployed Britons. This poses an important question - how will the UK universities survive recent changes brought forwards by the Government?

Due to newly imposed immigration rules, universities will not be able to attract more international students to compensate for their lost revenues as a result of dramatic increase in tuition fees for English students. So if English students will not be able to afford higher education while foreign students will not be allowed into the country or deported back home due to abolishment of post-study visa, how does Britain plan to increase its recovery and sustain the number of high skilled workers?

Those are vital factors contributing to Britain’s other long-standing traditions which are as well-known as fish and chips, namely - innovation, highly qualified labour force and global cultural reach.

Written by Daria Rusanova - 3rd year MA (Hons) Economics and Economic History


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