Cambridge University head slams UK immigration policy

Professor Leszek Borysiewicz, the vice chancellor of Cambridge University, has said that the UK's immigration policy is damaging the UK's university sector and also the country in general.

The professor said that the use of a 'crude' numerical immigration target is leading foreign students to believe that the UK is 'not a welcoming place to study in'.

Professor Borysiewicz's own parents were immigrants to the UK. He told UK newspaper The Guardian 'When I think of how my parents were welcomed to this country, I find that actually quite saddening. I do feel we are an open, democratic country and we should be setting the standards for the rest of the world, not hindering them'.

Cardiff to Cambridge

Professor Borysiewicz was born in Cardiff to Polish parents in 1950. He is a medical doctor who has specialised in research into immunology, spending most of his working life in Cambridge.

He warned that the government's immigration policies are painting a negative picture of the UK overseas and discouraging foreign students, particularly those in the Indian subcontinent from applying to UK universities. Instead, they are going to study in the US, Canada and in other countries.

The numbers of Indian and Pakistani students coming to study in the UK has plummeted since the current Coalition government came to power in 2010. The government is accused of introducing policies which discourage international students from applying to UK universities.

Indian and Pakistani student numbers down

The Guardian reports that between 2011 and 2012, the number of Indian students studying at UK universities fell by 38% while the number of Pakistanis fell by 62%.

The government has insisted that the UK still wants to attract 'the brightest and the best' to study at UK universities but the professor says that the idea of a strict immigration target, which the government introduced in 2010, is bound to cause problems because it 'hides the true potential benefit that people coming to Britain can actually have'.

The UK is currently governed by a coalition government made up of the Conservative Party of Prime Minister David Cameron and the smaller Liberal Democrats. Mr Cameron promised, as leader of the opposition, to reduce net annual immigration from the then level of about 250,000 a year to 'tens of thousands' a year.

Immigration reduction measures

The government has taken numerous steps to do this. It has cut the number of Tier 1 (highly skilled migrants) visas available every year from tens of thousands to hundreds and placed a cap of 20,700 on the number of Tier 2 (General) skilled worker visas available annually.

Academics complain that the government has also taken steps to cut the number of students because students are included in the immigration figures.

The net immigration figure is calculated by finding the number of people arriving in the UK as immigrants in a 12 month period and subtracting the number of people emigrating. Migrants are defined by the UN, and the UK, as people who leave one country intending to stay in another for 12 months or more.

Students are 'migrants'

Because students live in the country where they study for the duration of their course, university students are counted as migrants. Therefore, one way to cut the net immigration figure is to cut the number of students coming to UK universities.

Academics complain that this is short-sighted and damaging to the UK's economy and international reputation. The government says that it has not limited the number of genuine students studying at UK universities but has, instead , cracked down on abuse of the Tier 4 student visa system by closing 700 bogus colleges which were providing student visa sponsorship to foreign nationals intending to come to the UK primarily to work.

While the government has not limited the number of students who are allowed to come to the country on Tier 4 student visas every year, it has introduced more checks on students to ensure that they have good English and have sufficient funds to support themselves while in the UK.

Heavy-handed checks

UK universities also complain that the immigration authorities have introduced a heavy-handed system of checks. They say that the immigration authorities make frequent changes to the immigration requirements making it difficult for Universities to comply with the rules.

In August 2012, the government removed the Tier 4 visa sponsorship licence from London Metropolitan University. This meant that thousands of students, many from the Indian subcontinent, were left without a sponsor; their Tier 4 visas were also revoked. This is said to have caused considerable disquiet in India and Pakistan.

The UK universities minister, David Willetts, launched an advertising campaign in India and Pakistan to try to undo the damage but the numbers coming to the UK have never recovered.

International competition for students

Professor Borsyiewicz says that Cambridge is still attracting foreign students because of its global reputation. He told The Guardian, 'a university such as Cambridge competes with Princeton, Harvard, Stanford, much more so than other UK universities'.

But the professor said that he was still concerned about the potential damage to the university because of government's changes. He said 'anything that prevents us getting the very best students I believe would be to the long-term detriment of the United Kingdom'.

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