Editorial - Immigration paranoia only impedes success

29th April 2011 at 01:00
Finally, we have proof that courses in colleges are more rigorous than those in universities.

Finally, we have proof that courses in colleges are more rigorous than those in universities. It has long been suspected that university is essentially a part-time activity for students and dons alike. They meet up for a couple of hours a week to break up the long stretches of time spent watching daytime TV or napping in a wing-back chair.

But, just as top universities such as Oxford and Cambridge forbid students from paid employment in term time on the grounds that their studies are too demanding to allow for distractions, so the most obvious explanation for putting extra restrictions on the working hours of international students in colleges must be that their courses are much harder (page 29).

It is difficult to think of any other explanation that makes sense. It can't be that they need the money less. On the contrary, colleges are attractive precisely because they are usually cheaper. Either that or they offer vocational courses likely to appeal to the hard-working children of ordinary families rather than the scions of royalty and dictators - who are more likely to go for a fancy-sounding subject at, to pick an example at random, the London School of Economics.

And it doesn't seem plausible that international college students compete with UK nationals in the job market to a greater degree than those in universities. They are both likely to be going for the same jobs as baristas or bar staff.

The UK Border Agency's stated reason is nonsense: that it reflects levels of compliance. Even if this were proven, and the agency did not offer figures showing that colleges were any less trustworthy as sponsors, it would not make sense. How does restricting the working hours of students make their institutions better at following the agency's rules?

When colleges warn that the petty restrictions will put students off - some countries have already protested that it seems as though the UK "isn't open for business" - they are right, and, sadly, this may be the desired outcome. Policy on international students is a battle between our greed and fear: we want their money, but fear what they will do to immigration numbers, which the Government has rashly promised to reduce to "tens of thousands a year".

But this Government must be full of people who grew up with Gordon Gekko's motto, "Greed is good". What other export industry would be treated with this kind of nit-picking attitude at a time when entrepreneurialism and job creation are supposed to be top of the agenda? It is sad that the Coalition's populist concern over immigration is overshadowing its business sense.

The recruitment of international students is an export industry. If she was not too busy with the wedding preparations, you could ask Her Majesty to confirm it. She, after all, gave a Queen's Award for international trade to Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College.

The college has not opened up a campus in New Delhi or Beijing, but by selling education to foreign nationals it puts a big credit on the national balance sheet, creates jobs and helps sustain our own education system, which has rarely been more in need of financial assistance.

In all other export industries we try to sweep away red tape. But immigration paranoia is putting more of it in the way of a British success story.

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