For many UK universities it is now International welcome week, a period where our centres of Higher and Further education have an opportunity to impress those students travelling in from all over the world whilst helping them feel at ease in their strange new environment.
Unfortunately the current political and economic climate has allowed a discomforting message to emanate out overseas establishing an unfriendly "do not come to our country" feel that frightens and alienates potential students with those brave enough to come regardless of the difficulties in purgatory.
The UK government's perverse incentive to drastically cut international student numbers, treating them as a statistic rather than persons of unique individual value is sickening, especially when one of our own government committees found that around £8billion is contributed to the economy each year by international students.
Despite the evidence showing that one of the only areas of growth in the British economy is brought by international students, over the past two years we have seen the Government implement numerous controversial policies in order to deter students from choosing to study in the UK.
Using this issue as a political tennis game means legitimate international students are suffering the brunt of our Government's crackdown on immigration.
Smear campaigns against international students that irresponsibly cast doubt upon the legitimacy of foreign students, are based on faulty information and downright lies. Our current government must be insane in its attempts to pander to a xenophobic minority who scare monger about international students. Another fact conveniently left out of current government discourse is that money international students bring into UK higher education actually allows domestic student places to be subsidised.
I don't wish to paint a picture where we pity international students; if anything students who push all the limits to study in this country deserve our utmost respect and solidarity. Foreign students generally pay through the nose just to be here, in amounts that domestic students would never even contemplate paying.
As a British citizen I feel ashamed that international students are treated with nothing but contempt by the current system, how can I look any student, especially from a less economically developed country straight in the face knowing they have paid anything up to £40,000 just to be here for one year's study. All the while my degree course is subsidised, perhaps by that very student's very presence.
How dare the media and members of the public stereotype international students as "benefit-claiming illegal immigrants'. Information to the contrary is readily available if the papers would only print it. I use an elderly fellow I know as my favourite example of how media has shaped an ugly view of foreign students when he concludes that international students should "go thieve money from somebody else's country" - A view shaped by what the papers print.
The rights of international are under an unprecedented and sustained attack that aims to satisfy a government target of reducing "net migration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands" by 2015. We must not allow this attack to go unchallenged.
London Met isn't an isolated incident; it's the tip of a large polar iceberg that refuses to melt. As I said at the start of this blog we are in the midst of international welcome week, I would like to highlight not only where the government is going wrong but also individual academic institutions where the impact of draconian regulations and bureaucratic procedures are making life for new arrivals intolerable.
Here in Northern Ireland I spoke to an Erasmus student from Greece whose accommodation hadn't been approved due to "complications" really shone light on his experiences as I sat up till 2am speaking to him. I had allowed him to log into my user name on a university computer so he could tell his family that he was alive, he seemed very tired and stressed as he wondered whether he would have somewhere to stay tomorrow.
I also met two Saudi Arabian students who are terrified as they await their IELTS grades which will determine if the university will allow them to stay. This is dependent solely on their English skills (for me they spoke perfect English).
Lastly a student from Switzerland whom I spoke to last week at an amnesty international event was very worried after being made to jump through hoops at the university's visa office.
These short insights are yet another thing missing from the current discourse on International students.
If UKBA can easily set a revocation of London Met's highly trusted status for sponsoring international students on evidence that is under the strongest possible terms challenged, then any number of establishments could be next.
Regardless of anything else the impact for our students is far-reaching and destroying the aspirations of countless individuals. These are just some of the reasons why I'll be fighting the government's immigration policies for international students every step of the way until drastic reforms are implemented. International students in the UK are not without support from their tutors and piers, this is a fight that we can use our voices to win if we push hard enough.
In the meantime it is my view that UK universities need to stop marginalising & undervaluing internationals by live up to their reputations of being "centres of excellence". In response to London Met specifically a sharing of responsibilities by offering any spare places to affected students should commence.
After all students in theory should be any university's top priority right?
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