Students Not Suspects
I give a talk at the beginning of the semester on the challenges and rewards of scholarship to the new intake of graduate research students. It is always a pleasure. The MPhil/ PhD students personify the university's future as they gather in induction week - intellect, creativity, and restlessness, potential and increasingly cosmopolitanism. Much of what is good about university life is on display in that room year in year out. They enrich institutions but as the UK Higher Education International Unit has pointed out Britain sells more brainpower per capita than any other country in the world.
In 2009 a Universities UK study entitled 'The impact of universities on the UK economy' found that gross earning from overseas students in the higher education sector was some £53 billion. While Britain has 1% of the world's population 5% of the world's scientific research is conducted in the UK and scholars working in British Universities produce 14% of the world's most highly cited papers. At the end of the session students stay behind to ask about the details of references to follow up or how to find the room the next session is in. A female student waited until all her colleagues had filed out before approaching to ask her question: it wasn't about the content of the lecture. She said she was from China and wants to talk about her treatment by the UK Border Agency. Her sense of shock was contained in the way she recounted the indignities she was subjected to; there was a stunned look on her face.
"They questioned me about my husband, our marriage - they thought was fake as if my whole life was a lie." I told she wasn't alone and that it was shameful, a scandal. I also told her that there was a campaign that is trying to do something about the Border Agency's treatment of students and staff.
The 'Students Not Suspects' campaign is a broad coalition of students, academics and activists who are concerned about the impact that shifts in immigration rules is having on international students and the life of the university. Student migration has become heavily politicised in the UK. In September 2010 Damian Green, the Immigration Minister, reported that student visas had risen from 186,000 in 2004 to 307,000 in 2009. He claimed that one in five students remains in Britain after their visa expires and that only half of the students are studying degree courses.
Students have become the latest object of fear and panic within the debate about immigration and global population mobility. In the public debate new phrases like "bogus students" (accused of using higher learning illegitimately to gain visas) and "backstreet colleges" (who are selling immigration and not education) are gaining currency. This is despite the fact that students play an essential role in the economy. Overseas students are in effect subsidising UK Universities and in future this income may become increasingly significant to the financial survival of universities. The Chinese student I spoke to after my lecture is paying three or four times as