Thursday, May 23, 2024

Third-rate universities selling visas rather than education deserve to go bust

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Between them, they make two arguments why the clampdown is a terrible mistake. The first is that without the revenue from foreign students, fees for British students will have to rise. The second is that it might even mean that some universities go bust, destroying jobs in regional towns and cities where they are often major employers. 

Seriously? If that’s the best they can come up with, then it might be time for a few first-year refresher courses. We could start with introductory economics.

Everyone agrees that higher education is a world-class British industry and one that deserves to be nurtured. Foreign students bring in valuable export earnings and some go on to be world class academics in our institutions. Others work overseas but retain links to, and affection for, Britain. No one would want to end any of that. It is a valuable asset, and one that is second only to the United States. 

But that doesn’t mean that the current regime is fit for purpose. If we are bringing in the “best and brightest”, that’s hard to square with the explosion in visas for taught masters courses at lower ranked institutions. Britain’s economy would tick over just fine without them, as it did before the post-Brexit liberalisation.

And given the strong public opposition to the measure, the universities can hardly expect Westminster to allow immigration policy to be dictated by the need to keep their cashflow healthy. The current rate of net migration has become politically unsustainable, and students, with the graduate visa extensions, are playing a major role in the explosion.

We simply do not build enough homes to meet the growing demand. For that matter, we don’t build the reservoirs or transport capacity, either.

Given that we would be unlikely to change our immigration policy simply to suit other industries, there’s no reason why we should design it solely to keep higher education in good financial shape either. Policy needs to be set for the health of the overall economy and the social fabric of society, and if that means some sectors need to make changes to the way they operate then that’s just the way it goes. 

If a few universities go bust in the process, so be it. There is no iron law that says the UK needs 160 odd universities. If a dozen or so were forced to merge, consolidate, or even close their doors completely, it is quite likely to be healthier for the entire system, proving that their existence can’t be guaranteed and forcing a few to rethink their business model.

If the universities can just find a professor of economics or business somewhere on the campus, they will be able to explain what happens to companies that fail to adapt to changing circumstances.

It’s time to let universities swim – or sink – on their own.

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