Mar 24th 2011
THE home secretary, Theresa May, has a distinctive approach to immigration policy: cut annual net immigration, running at 226,000 in the year ending last June, to “tens of thousands” over the course of this parliament. The pledge has proved difficult to fulfill (because British emigration keeps dropping, and because European Union citizens cannot easily be kept out) and controversial (arguably the economy needs immigrants to grow). The Tories’ Liberal Democrat coalition partners aren’t very keen on the goal anyway.
There are non-political reasons to want to discourage some types of foreign students from coming to Britain. Despite a reform of the regime by the previous government, abuses remain. Some young people see a study visa as a quick ticket to the British job market and eventual settlement.
But teaching foreigners is a thriving business. Overseas students pump at least £10 billion a year into the economy. The higher fees they pay at university subsidise domestic students. Every ten full-time university students from outside the EU create three full-time British jobs, according to Ursula Kelly of Strathclyde University. These benefits are spread around the country, not concentrated in London and the south-east. Many think it would be mad to imperil this proven source of economic growth.
Downing Street said the education market was worth £28 bllion a year to the UK, with British companies, schools and universities selling the teaching of English abroad.
Mr Brown pointed out that already a third of the British population speaks English - one billion people, and that it is "becoming the world's language".
"It is a powerful force not just for economics, business and trade, but for mutual respect and progress," he said in an article published by Downing Street.
The English language is one of the main languages spoken in the world, with some 350 million native speakers, 350 million speakers of English as a second language and approximately one billion learners of English. Researchers predict a peak of 2 billion learners of English in the next 10 to 15 years. Lord Kinnock has recently stated that the English Language Teaching sector earns £1.3 billion for the UK in invisible exports, and our other educational related exports earn up to £10 billion per year. The English language could be said to be one of the UK's biggest export success stories.