Migrating students – or not

If you want to have a completely irrational conversation that brings out another person’s prejudices in an almost hysterical way, then try talking about immigration with someone who has conservative inclinations and reads certain newspapers. If you want to push the boundaries a little, suggest to them that immigration is good for the economy and that it benefits society. As you continue the conversation, see them gradually lose their grip on reality.

For years now some politicians and some newspapers have been whipping up public indignation about migration, and as a result public discourse on the topic has become impossible, unless you believe that completely crazy discussions have some value. There are acres of studies on migration, its causes, its effects, its benefits and its risks, but in England in particular public opinion has become so unbalanced that politicians hardly even pretend now to base their decisions on evidence. Even those who one might suspect are in reality quite rational in their views appear to believe they must express thinly disguised xenophobic views in public.

Talk of this kind not only makes xenophobia and racism seem respectable, because those with deep prejudices find excuses apparently rooted in economics or welfare policy, it also pushes countries into decisions that are completely at odds with their own self-interest. Another example of this has been the decision by the Conservative-led coalition government in London to reduce the number of overseas students studying in the the United Kingdom. The Home Secretary’s own officials have estimated that this move will cost Britain some £3.6 billion. However, Ms Theresa May has decided that she does not believe this evidence, presumably thereby implying that she has no intention of changing the policy. In fact Ms May is not an irrational person, but she clearly believes that she must not allow the facts to cloud her policy, because she knows well enough what some of her party’s supporters, and some of her media backers, want.

The British approach to immigration is daft in a general way. But its impact on universities, which badly need the revenues from overseas students as well as the important benefits derived from an education open to multi-cultural influences, is horrendous. As the UK gets a reputation for hostility to foreign students – and this is already happening – it is jettisoning some of the most important values of a civilised education system, as well as some of the economic benefits.

Speaking from Scotland, I hope (as I have said before) that student migration becomes an issue for the Scottish parliament. The Westminster government has shown that it cannot handle it objectively.

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11 Comments on “Migrating students – or not”

  1. Jilly Says:

    I can confirm that Irish universities are already benefitting from the changes to UK rules for non-EU students – our international recruitment staff are rubbing their hands with glee at the rise in applications.

  2. ricky connolly Says:

    I don’t understand how immigration of unskilled people is a net benefit to the economy. Could you clear this up for me?

    • Wendymr Says:

      Define ‘unskilled people’. In my experience working with immigrants, along with the hundreds, if not thousands, of research reports on the issue, immigrants to Western countries are generally more highly-skilled and better educated than the indigenous population.

      • Ricky connolly Says:

        Please show us these thousands of studies you have read

        • Wendymr Says:

          I’m not in work right now so don’t have everything at my disposal, but even a quick Google search turns up the following:

          Skill levels of immigrants in the US: http://www.brookings.edu/papers/2011/06_immigrants_singer.aspx (The share of working-age immigrants in the United States who have a bachelor’s degree has risen considerably since 1980, and now exceeds the share without a high school diploma).

          In Canada: 93% of skilled immigrants and their partners possess post-secondary education (often at Masters and above), compared to 43% of the Canadian-born population. Around 1/3 of refugees have post-secondary education (http://www.clbc.ca/files/Reports/Immigration_Handbook.pdf, p. 19). And figures from Statistics Canada in 2006: “immigrants to Canada have higher educational attainment than native-born Canadians. Very recent immigrants are more than twice as likely to possess a university degree and are four times more likely to have a graduate degree than native-born Canadians” (http://www.ccl-cca.ca/pdfs/LessonsInLearning/Oct-30-08-More-education-less-emplyment.pdf; original source Statistics Canada). Summary of the StatsCan survey drawn from.

          In the UK: a report from the Centre for Economic Performance, based at LSE, draws data from the 2009 Labour Force Survey to state that “Immigrants are, on average, more educated than their UK-born counterparts, and the educational attainment gap has been rising over time since more recent immigrants are more
          educated, on average, than other immigrants. While more than half of the UK-born workforce left school at 16 or earlier, fewer than one in six new immigrants finished their education by the age of 16. Just under one in five UK-born members of the workforce finished education at 21 or later compared with more than one in three immigrants and more than 50% of all new immigrants” (http://cep.lse.ac.uk/pubs/download/ea006.pdf, p. 5).

          Australia: an immigration blog comments “around 46 percent of men born in non-MESC (main English-speaking countries) aged between 25-34 years possess a bachelor degree or a higher qualification while the number of Australian-born men in the same age having similar qualification is merely 20 percent” (http://www.canadaupdates.com/content/talent-immigrants-australia-going-waste-15903.html, data drawn from the 2008 AMP-NATSEM Income and Wealth report).

          If I felt like spending more than twenty minutes on this, I could pull up many more sources. Suffice to say that for every country which is a destination for immigrants there is governmental, academic, think-tank and community group research which all demonstrates the high levels of academic qualifications and skill levels of most immigrants. In the UK, where more than 50% of people do not stay in school beyond the age of 16, immigrants outqualify British people. In Canada, where illiteracy levels among the Canadian-born population are shockingly high (around 50% of Canadian-born people have some problems with letters and numbers, and 22% score level 1 on the literacy scale, meaning that they struggle with basic reading and writing, and a further 26% can read but do not read well), highly-educated immigrants leave them standing.

          I imagine you won’t pay much attention to this, but I would encourage you to give some serious consideration to the facts available from objective research rather than adopting the kneejerk reaction of the reactionary right to immigration (which usually, oddly enough, has no problem with white and English-speaking immigrants, but suddenly does have a problem when immigrants have different-coloured skin, speak a different language or wear a different type of clothing.


    • If we didn’t have immigration of people willing to do unskilled jobs, many of those jobs could no longer be done at all. Almost every western country relies on them. In reality, as Wendy has pointed out, many of those who then do these jobs have skills levels that would equip them to do far more demanding work.

      • Vincent Says:

        But would it not be far more efficient to have these people do the work they are trained. Not the scut-work as with currently. How different can it be in medical education or engineering. A bridge is a bridge and a stint is a stint.
        What do we want here eh. Chemical engineers driving cabs like in New York. That’s just a stupid waste.
        And I see no reason that the average street isn’t configured such that rainfall and wind keeps them clean. If a damn golf green can be designed to do just that why not the streets and pavements.

        • Ricky connolly Says:

          You seem to think we live in some communist wet dream utopia where everything can be micromanaged from the top down and everything runs smoothly and perfectly.

          • Vincent Says:

            The exact opposite. I happen to think most professions have a 13th century notion of collegiality which would give the hardest Trotskyite the wet dream.

  3. ricky connolly Says:

    obviously when we say we oppose unregulated immigration we are not talking about PhD scientists or athletes or millionaire investors.

    • kevin denny Says:

      Immigration increases the capacity of the economy so it grows. Moreover immigrants are “instant adults”, we get these workers but didn’t have to pay for their education & upbringing: thats cool. If they are unskilled it means that the sectors that they mainly work in will be able to produce more for less.
      The tricky bit is the question of distribution because not everyone gains equally from this immigration and indeed some natives can be made worse off: the one’s who would be competing with the immigrants since there will be downward pressure on their wages. Since there are limits to how far one can push down wages (because of the dole & minimum wages etc) the effect has to come out some other way. For example job displacement.
      It seems to be not politically correct in some circles to discuss this possibility.
      Whether or to what extent low skilled Irish workers have been dis-advantaged by immigrants is a question that requires research. Maybe its been done: I don’t know.


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