Leaders: May must rethink foreign students policy

The Home Secretary proposes that students from outside the EU should return home in order to apply for a work visa after graduation. Picture: Stephen Masnfield
The Home Secretary proposes that students from outside the EU should return home in order to apply for a work visa after graduation. Picture: Stephen Masnfield
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One of the key ambitions of Scottish education policy has been to encourage overseas students to apply for jobs here and settle. In this way, they would be able to make a positive contribution to the Scottish economy while helping to mitigate a continuing shortage of skills and qualifications in the workforce.

Now, in a bid to curtail immigration to the UK, Home Secretary Theresa May has proposed that foreign students should go home after they have graduated and apply for jobs from their country of origin rather than from the UK.

It can hardly be said to be a proposal driven either by concern for education or indeed for the needs of a modern workforce. And the problems created would be particularly acute in Scotland, where immigration has played an important role in meeting employment needs, in particular across the business-services sector. In recent months, the authoritative Bank of Scotland labour force surveys have revealed shortages of applicants for advertised posts.

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There can be little doubt as to what is really driving this policy: the vulnerability of the government over immigration. In particular, the failure to meet its self-determined 2010 pledge to reduce the numbers of people entering the UK has given ammunition to the anti-immigration UK Independence Party. This has increasingly eaten into Conservative grass-roots support and presents a major threat to Conservative prospects in the general election now less than five months away.

Faced with this pressure, the Home Secretary now proposes that the Conservative election manifesto contains a commitment that will oblige students from outside the EU to return home in order to apply for a work visa if they wish to continue to live in the UK after graduation.

The problem of skills shortage is notable in Scotland and this policy would have a harmful effect on the economy. The Scottish Government lost no time in branding the policy as “wrong for Scotland”, while SNP MSP Christian Allard described it as “ludicrous”. It would mean a loss of expertise to the economy and would put off people from abroad from coming to our universities.

But the problems with this proposal would not end there. As part of this policy, colleges and universities that sponsor foreign students would be held responsible for ensuring their departure. They would be fined for low departure rates and, in the “worst” cases, would be deprived of their right to sponsor foreign students.

It is hard to think of a proposal more likely to antagonise the higher education sector than being made agents of effective deportation, and it would almost certainly face major problems in compliance and enforcement. The Home Secretary must think again.

Saltire belongs to Scotland not the SNP

There’s nothing like nationwide branding to get your message across – and the more nationalistic, the better. The Scottish Government has no doubt where its branding priorities lie. Out of £7,000 spent on flags in the run-up to the independence referendum, Saltires comprised the biggest batch. The administration spent £2,000 on Saltires, £108 on a Basque flag – and just £58.50 on an English flag. No money at all was spent on a Union flag: not a groat or a bawbee. But for the Commonwealth Games, it bought rainbow flags, two Isle of Man flags and flags for Mongolia and Mauritius.

However, judging by the referendum result, the SNP administration could be said to have fallen notably short on its Saltire order.

It is only proper that our national flag should be flown from Scottish Government and public buildings. And there should be a plentiful supply on important dates in our national calendar. In this light, the sum of £2,000 since 2013 is hardly excessive. It’s the £58.50 that’s more likely to stick in the throat. Which moss-covered ruin in which remote promontory of the country had the singular distinction of flying the cross of St George?

In the independence referendum, it was inevitable that the Saltire came to be seen as the symbol of the Yes campaign.

But we should bear in mind that the Saltire is the national flag that belongs to all Scots, regardless of political or party persuasion, and that it should not be used for party political purposes.

When it becomes a partisan icon, its power and value as a unifying symbol of the nation is lost.

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