An export to take pride in

As a Brit, I find some of our principal exports a national shame.  We are world-leaders in armaments and in financial services.  The latter are not all bad, but much of them are substantially parasitic on the productive economy.

So I’m cheered by today’s news: high net immigration, together with lots of student visas.  It indicates we’re successfully exporting education.  Assuming a large proportion of it is legitimate higher education, it suggests the huge expansion we’ve had in the sector isn’t just dilution and dumbing-down.

In the longer term, education should have a neutral effect on net immigration.  That is to say, the number of students arriving to study should balance the number leaving after completing their studies.  A big rise in numbers therefore indicates a real expansion, and is probably due to the fall in sterling making UK costs a whole lot more competitive for foreign students.

Let’s hope our universities are building on their export success to expand their net capacity as centres of excellence.

Posted on August 26, 2010, in education, uk. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I’m not sure I’d buy education being neutral on net immigration. Lots of people stay in the country of their University education. A lot of foreign students would have to marry and take their partners home to balance the effect.

    Well educated immigrants are probably a good thing to hang on to anyway.

  2. It’s a fine point, but let me argue it. Graduates staying on are a secondary effect. Their student visas expire, so they have to reapply for a new visa to work. Thus we export the student, and import a worker outside the student numbers.

    More broadly I’m against net immigration, for the simple and practical reason that we’re already hopelessly overcrowded. But that’s another argument.

  3. It’s an interesting statistic, but by itself it’s hard to tell whether it’s a good thing or not.

    I’m all in favour of people being mobile generally, including living/working in foreign countries for some part of their lives if they want to (and whether or not they want to make the change permanent should be, IMO, no-one’s decision but theirs to make). So foreign students studying in the UK, or UK students studying abroad – both excellent things. Exchange of knowledge/ideas, and all that.

    But these students:
    – Are they, in fact, getting the “quality education” they’re certainly being charged for? – or are institutions, pressed for cash, simply hocking their reputations by upping their intake of profitable foreign students regardless of quality?
    – Are they displacing UK students (in any significant numbers)?
    – Are they revenue-neutral (or better) on public finances? (There is currently a significant issue in New Zealand with graduates flitting abroad with big, publicly-subsidised student loans still outstanding.)

    So – interesting statistic, but I wouldn’t commit to calling it either a good or bad thing in itself.

  1. Pingback: Education for whom? « niq's soapbox

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