Tories ‘killing off’ international education – Times Higher Education

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The Conservative government’s “ideological” policies against international students will contribute to a gradual decline in the UK’s position as a research and science superpower, an expert has warned.
Ewan Kirk, entrepreneur-in-residence at the University of Cambridge, said the country’s higher education sector was a “world leader”, attracting gifted people from across the world who subsidised the education of domestic students.
These international students were also “the powerhouse of the modern economy”, but were now encouraged to go home when they had graduated because the government wanted fewer immigrants, he warned.
“There’s a feeling in the government that these people are going to come across, get their education and then sit around in their pants and watch daytime TV on benefits,” Mr Kirk told Times Higher Education. “These are not those kind of people.”
Mr Kirk, who is chair of the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences and one of the largest private funders of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) causes in the UK, said there was no “rational reason” why the country would not want more international graduates to stay and work.
But he said the government was being “driven by the madness of the immigration debate” and, with a general election looming, the Conservative Party thought there were votes to be won with anti-immigration policies.
“That ideology is driving a lot of issues that will make it harder for us to be good in education and consequently good in STEM,” he added.
Mr Kirk, who is best known for founding the quantitative hedge fund Cantab Capital Partners, said the impact of policies such as a ban on master’s students’ dependants coming to the UK would not be felt overnight.
“It’s not as if the gate goes down and suddenly everyone goes to America or wherever, but it is more of a gradual decline,” he said.
“As we make it harder and harder for people to access our fabulous education system, it just gradually decays.
“It just gradually goes downhill and then it’s very hard to get it back, so I think you need to take action now rather than just see what happens.”
Having previously supported both Tony Blair and David Cameron, and later the Liberal Democrats, Mr Kirk has now donated to Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party – partly because of prime minister Rishi Sunak’s policies restricting international students, and partly because of the “omnishambles” of the last five years.
Mr Kirk was also critical of the Turing Scheme for being “terribly designed” and a poor replacement for the Erasmus+ programme.
While not as important for the economic success of the UK as things like Horizon Europe and being more welcoming to international students and their families, the issues with the Turing Scheme were “indicative of a lack of care” towards the education and STEM sectors, he added.
Mr Kirk said the immigration health surcharge was another instance of the government making it harder for students from the European Union, who were used to reciprocal healthcare across the continent, to come to the UK.
“That’s just dripping sand into the gears and eventually the gears just stop turning.”
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