One of the many advantages of coming to university is the diversity. I cannot think of anything more claustrophobic than spending three years here with a group of culturally identical people. University is a microcosm of society from whichever perspective you choose to see it: the people are mostly young, they’re mostly jobless and, depending on the institution you end up studying at, they’re mostly academic. Nowhere bucks the trend more than miniscule, Oxbridge-reject ridden York. The desperation for diversity is particularly acute if, like me, you went to a 90 per cent white-Caucasian school where 100 per cent of the students lived within half-a-mile of your doorstep.
The announcement by Alan Johnson this month, unveiling measures which will significantly limit the amount of foreign students coming to the UK, overlooks the necessity for both home and foreign students to experience new perspectives. This is not a decision related to the functioning of universities as businesses; it is about personal development for those attending them, students who have often never had an opportunity to mix with a wide-range of people before. Johnson has faced significant opposition from the educational establishment, which greatly depends on foreign students. The immigration of foreign students for universities is worth around £50 million a year.
But what if Mr Johnson looked beyond the economic arguments being levelled against him, and considered the value of the university experience which he himself has undoubtedly had? Home students are not the only group at stake; what of the opportunity for anyone worldwide to pay to receive an exceptional education and respected qualifications? After the US, the UK is the second most popular destination for Indian students, leaving many who have secured places in universities across Britain out in the cold, despite having paid tuition fees.
The right-wing press disparages the rate of foreign students as “rampant abuse” of the system after a few bogus visas have heightened the terror threat; but what Johnson’s decision critically ignores is the thousands of students, such as those in India, who rely on their entry into the English education system to secure their futures. So-called “rampant abuse” speaks of ungrounded, fervid hysteria that masks how important it is for students across the world to appreciate and develop an acceptance of different cultures. Ostracising foreign students will not only curtail the opportunities of students from overseas, but limit the racial and religious tolerance of young people in this country and abroad.