Britain’s media and bourgeois politicians are well versed in using the ‘issue’ of immigration to divide workers. This allows the ruling class to attack all workers, under cover of seeming to attack only a ‘few’ who somehow ‘deserve’ it.
By getting workers to blame each other for their problems, the ruling class ensures that no effective fight-back (which does depend on a degree of unity and a recognition of shared interests) can materialise. This being the case, all workers end up losing out as their living standards are driven down because of their inability to resist the attacks of the ruling class.
Ever ready to remind workers that their problems are caused by ‘immigrants’ (as opposed to capitalism), the government has made high-profile statements about the ‘need’ to cut net immigration by ‘tens of thousands’ by 2015 – and the UK Border Agency (UKBA) has been tasked with achieving the desired figures.
It turns out, however, that official immigration figures include foreign students – who represented two-fifths of total ‘immigration’ in 2010-11. So, quite naturally in this age of ‘performance-related pay’, this is where the UKBA’s officers are concentrating their efforts.
There’s one small problem though. Higher education is one of Britain’s largest and most rapidly growing sources of international revenue. Fees from foreign students account for more than a tenth of higher education income in the UK, and they have a big economic impact off the campus too. In short, the contribution of foreign students to Britain’s economy is immense.
According to a recent analysis from the IPPR think-tank, meeting the immigration target could mean cutting foreign student numbers by about 50,000, at an annual cost to the economy of £2-3bn.
In a bid to meet its arbitrary target, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) has been putting intense pressure on learning institutions, leading many vice-chancellors to claim that they are having to account for their international students’ whereabouts both in and out of university – an obviously impossible task and a farcical waste of everybody’s time.
And now, to add to the insanity of the situation, the UKBA has sounded the death knell for London Metropolitan University (LMU) by taking away its licence to sponsor student visas entirely. At a stroke, this purported to remove a huge proportion of the university’s revenues and contemptuously to leave 2,600 existing foreign students, half-way through their degrees, in the impossible position of having to find a new place to study within 60 days or find themselves forced to leave the country. The university was able to obtain a small respite from the courts while they investigate further whether the university was given reasonable notice, and the government has announced that the students who entered the country with LMU sponsorship will not automatically be deported, but the university’s application for judicial review of UKBA’s decision as irrational has been rejected out of hand.
This action will have big consequences, and not just for those thousands of fee-paying and high-spending foreign students whose future has been thrown into doubt at London Met. This particular university is even more significant to the local population. Of its 18,000 or so students, two-thirds come from local communities; three-fifths are declared non-white; 96 percent were educated in state schools; and it has more than twice as many mature students as the average English university.
The UKBA’s move could well end in the total destruction of this vital educational facility, which serves some of Britain’s most marginalised communities. With education for the masses under threat across the board, it can scarcely be a coincidence that the state has singled out a university providing education to a large number of working-class and minority students rather than, for example, an elite Oxbridge college.
Moreover, at a time when countries such as Australia, Canada, Germany and France are competing to attract students from around the world, it is surely the height of madness to virtually torpedo a world-renowned British university, leaving both students and faculties wondering who will be for the chop next. The choice of Britain as a learning destination will certainly not seem such a desirable one if students think there is a chance they could be forced out of the country with no notice and nothing to show for their families’ money but a few semesters’ worth of attendance!
British universities are presently forced (although many of the greedy bursars welcomed it with open coffers) to rely on fees for funding. And suddenly it seems that their biggest source of income, the foreign students, are being driven away. If anything more were needed to show the utter bankruptcy of the present economic system, it is surely the sight of the educational chances of a generation being shot down in flames merely in the interest of maintaining the ‘sponging immigrants’ myth.