With reference to your report on the official figures revealing that fewer than 5,000 students a year stay on after their visa expires (PM under fire as student visa myth exposed, 25 August), I have just retired after 17 years as chancellor of Leeds University and cannot credit that the government has got away with this mule-headed and mendacious policy for so long under Theresa May at the Home Office and now at 10 Downing Street.
Like many others in parliament and the universities, I have consistently challenged this policy and been consistently fobbed off with arrogant or feeble responses. I must conclude that Theresa May wants to keep referring to these 140,000-plus students as immigrants because it suits some disgraceful scaremongering tactic.
Foreign students have added immeasurably to the current remarkably high status of British universities. And many of our most loyal alumni are in India and China etc, promising good future relations but not of course in the current climate. May’s widely reported insulting slap in the face to Indian students was regarded as directly responsible for her failed trade trip to India. Not only Indian but Chinese students now feel unwelcome here. They are rejecting us in droves and now widely embraced by Australia, America and European countries. To preserve Theresa May’s face we are told we will have to wait a year for this proven and gross error to be put right. A terrible amount of damage has already been done.
• Of all the mean-minded, incompetent policies the Home Office and Theresa May are associated with, her constant accusations against foreign students have been among the most damaging. British patriots of the old school constantly bemoan the decline of the UK’s military power, but actually the one area where we have always “punched above our weight” is soft power, not hard. Many thousands of influential people across the globe, including the leaders of one in seven of the world’s nations, have studied at British universities. We are widely seen as the mother of western liberal democracy and our mother tongue is undoubtedly among the most useful to learn for anyone who has ambitions outside their own country.
If Brexit has any clear implication it is that we will be more dependent on our soft power in the future than we are as a member in good standing of the EU. It is good news that the BBC World Service (another major institution contributing to it) seems to be expanding its coverage. But the widely understood hostility to foreigners who wish to study here, which May has helped to create, is undermining and will continue to undermine this strength. Now we know the hostility is based on a myth, will she abandon it? If not, it is even more clear that her government’s policies are based not on evidence of the national interest but on the interests of the Tory party; and, in fact, her need to protect her own personal political position.
• In 1989, following a recommendation I made as a member of an industrial panel, Queen Mary University of London set up an MSc course on management of intellectual property for the university training of IP professionals. This was unique and attracted students from the UK, EU and overseas territories worldwide. Since 1990, I have successfully taught about 800 postgraduates, the vast majority of whom returned to work in their country of origin, where they occupied senior posts and are ambassadors for UK university education. While they were here, the students, many of whom were sponsored by their governments or employers, made a huge contribution to the UK economy. The only hiatus was when the government abolished the post-study work (PSW) visas, causing a drop in applicants. Those overseas students who stayed were mainly appointed to valuable positions involving liaison with their country of origin or other positions requiring their enhanced postgraduate qualification. One was even directly appointed as IP manager of the National Physical Laboratory, responsible for the inventive output of 600 of the UK’s leading physicists.
Prof Roger Cullis
Queen Mary Centre for Commercial Law Studies, University of London
• In the many years that I was a judge I spent most of my time hearing appeals against decisions made by various government departments. The most bizarrely dysfunctional of all was the Home Office. It comes as absolutely no surprise, then, that its figures in relation to student numbers have been proved to be hopelessly wrong. This begs the inevitable question of what reliance, if any, can be placed upon statistics from the Home Office.
Let us not forget that its figures have been used in support of poisonous and divisive ideological arguments from the Conservatives. Let us also not forget that for many years Theresa May was home secretary. If, as is manifestly the case, she could not properly run a single government department, what hope is there for her ability to run the country, never mind dealing with enormously complex Brexit issues?
Dr Stephen Pacey
North Muskham, Nottinghamshire