Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Border Controls

It seems Ireland is not alone in creating new barriers to international student recruitment. Recent news in the Guardian states that the Home Office in the UK will require potential international students to provide evidence that they have access to at least €9,600 a year before entering the UK. That is money they must prove they have over and above the very high tuition fees that many potential students already find to be a successful deterrent.

What I find peculiar about this move is that international students are a very significant export industry, if you want to look at it like that, for UK higher education. A report from the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) calculated that non-EU students injected £2.87 billion into the economy in 2004-5. The authors go on to point out that: ‘Higher education is an extremely significant export industry in this country, outstripping the export value of, for example, alcoholic drinks . . .’ (Vickers and Bekhradnia 2007).

It might not suit everyone's taste to consider the economic contribution that international students make in these terms, but it does seem rather bizarre for the Home Office to ignore it. Their decision seems to suggest that international students are perceived to be a drain on resources, whereas evidence suggests that both their economic and academic contributions are extremely valuable. International PhD students in particular help to boost the standings of universities in world-wide league tables as well as making significant contributions to the research output of universities.

It seems to me that the recent decision here in Ireland was also partly based on the belief that international students might deplete resources rather than contribute to them. A report from Education Ireland, however, estimated that international students contributed €372 million to the Irish economy in 2005/06. Again, this does not even begin to encompass the very real contribution that many postgraduate students make to the academic life of universities.

I don't like discussing international students in economic terms alone. But I very much dislike the perception that international students might be 'taking' rather than 'giving' to the countries that they enter for their education. These new barriers depress me because of the messages that can be read into their construction.

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