Giving an interview to the Sun on Sunday, new Home Secretary Suella Braverman argued that there’s currently a “really low bar” to being considered to be a victim of modern slavery, and it’s paedos and drug dealers trying it on that’s what’s “gumming up” the system at the moment.
To augment this unpleasant blow of the dog-whistle, Braverman inevitably took aim at international students:
What we’ve got is too many low skilled workers coming into this country. We’ve also got a very high number of students coming into this country and we’ve got a really high number of dependents. So students are coming on their student visa, but they’re bringing in family members who can piggyback onto their student visa. Those people are coming here, they’re not necessarily working or they’re working in low skilled jobs, and they’re not contributing to growing our economy.”
We want people with high skills, we want people with tech qualifications…What we don’t want is a very steady stream of cheap foreign labour.”
Those in the sector attempting to argue the opposite on the basis of overall economic contribution might be right – but I’d sound three notes of caution. This doesn’t feel like a government (or indeed a Home Office) that is likely to rationally prioritise that argument, it increasingly looks like the sector only cares about the cash, and the failure to properly plan for international expansion (both on campus and in communities) may well result in Braverman winning any battle with No.10 over the issue in the long run.
I’m hearing far too many tales of international PGT students arriving in the UK with their family in tow with nowhere to live and/or having to live many hundreds of miles away. As always seems to be the case with HE marketisation, showing restraint (even with the excuse of a declining unit of resource) seems beyond parts of the sector’s grasp.
But the problems with the pound can be seen both ways. Despite lots of commentary on the upsides for inward migration, I’ve heard very little about the grim situation for the few students on our increasingly parochial little island daring to leave it for part or all of their studies.
Inflation around the EU might not be hitting the rates that it is here, but it’s still higher than the miserly 2.3 per cent rate applied to the max maintenance loan that students can get if they’re studying abroad. Adding currency fluctuations to all of that makes matters worse.
Someone who got the max abroad loan in early September could exchange it for about €13,200 – today they’d get about €12,600, a whopping €600 drop in the value of that entitlement. Meanwhile if you were studying in the US, you’d have gone from your loan being worth about $13,200 to $11,900 – a painful drop of about $1,300.
As well as years abroad, we ought to expect all of this to impact those taking part in Turing (or Taith in Wales) and should keep a close eye on currency fluctuations suddenly plunging students into hardship abroad – where accessing help might be just as difficult as we often seem to make it for international students here.