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UK immigration debate heats up

2 October 20140 comments
Photo credit: rfI

Photo credit: RFI

Britain’s increasingly heated debate on migration risks creating a perception among students that it is not a welcoming country to study in, according to one of the UK’s top educators.

Vice-chancellor of Cambridge University Professor Leszek Borysiewicz this week spoke out in defence of the value of immigration, saying he opposed “crude” numerical limits on migrants while praising Britain’s pluralistic society as one of its greatest strengths.

In an interview with the Guardian, Borysiewicz said that Cambridge had not been affected by falling applications, but cautioned that there was an emerging perception, particularly in India, that Britain was not welcoming.

“When I think of how my parents were welcomed to this country, I find that actually quite saddening. I do feel we are an open, democratic country and we should be setting the standards for the rest of the world, not hindering them,” Professor Borysiewicz said.

The numbers of students to all universities coming to the UK from India fell by 38 per cent between 2011 and 2012, and those from Pakistan by 62 per cent.

The Welsh-born son of Polish refugees who found sanctuary in Britain after the Second World War, Professor Borysiewicz said he “abhorred” the idea of a strict net migration target, set by ministers at 100,000 a year.

“Crude numbers hide the true potential benefit that people coming to Britain can actually have,” he said.

His work at Cambridge – on Monday ranked as Britain’s leading university in the 2015 Guardian University guide – and previously at institutions including Imperial College had shown him that “many of the most inspiring applicants come from children of immigrant parents” who often valued education highly.

Professor Borysiewicz also urged a greater recognition of the value of bilingualism among first- and second-generation immigrant children, and warned that the decline in learning in the UK could limit the educational and career chances of poorer children.

He said that German teaching in particular was disappearing from schools in Britain, and blamed the decline in language learning on the global dominance of English, combined with British “laziness” over picking up languages.

Despite studies warning of the negative economic consequences of Britain’s dire record on language learning, modern language study in England is in dramatic decline.

Numbers of students learning French and German fell 9.9 per cent and 11.1 per cent respectively last summer compared with the previous year.

Professor Borysiewicz call for an outward-facing, open-door Britain, comes amid heightened debate over immigration, sparked by the triumph of the Euro-skeptic UKIP party in the European elections.

Professor Borysiewicz has added a powerful voice to those calling for a positive view of immigration.

“One of Britain’s greatest strengths has been in the way it has assimilated so many different communities, and we are a very plural and open society,” he said.

Helen Matovu-Reed
AMES Staff Writer