Here in Britain, the future is looking pretty bleak for higher education. According to the latest global rankings released by the Times Higher Education group, nearly all of the UK's top universities have continued to free-fall down their list of the world's best. Bearing in mind that higher education is one of the country's most lucrative exports, education buffs and politicians alike will no doubt be scrambling for answers as to why Britain's reputation is slipping. Yet the answer is disturbingly simple.
In 2010, Conservatives made a promise to British voters to drastically slice the number of foreigners trying to live and work in the UK. Irrational Romanian scares and 'Go Home' vans aside, they're finally making progress. Earlier this year, Tories were left celebrating the first landmark success after the Office for National Statistics reported that net immigration had dropped by a third. The figures showed that visas issued for the purpose of studying at British universities - the most common reason foreigners wanted to enter the country - fell by a whopping 20%.
As foreigners have been known to pay more than double what British citizens pay for their degrees, this is awful news for UK universities - and suggests the budgets of Britain's learning institutions will only shrink further still. After all, under current government rules, English universities are only allowed to charge UK and EU citizens a maximum yearly tuition of £9,000 - and in Northern Ireland, locals get charged just £3,575 per year. How much do foreigners pay? According to UCAS, literally as much as universities want to charge them.
In fact, an international student earning a clinical degree in the UK is currently paying their university anywhere from £10,000 to £25,000 per year. Hell, last year, a standard engineering degree from Oxford - apparently one of the only UK institutions worthy of international acclaim - cost foreigners at least £24,707 per year. Given these hefty sums, it's a wonder money-hungry politicians don't want Britain's universities to be left exclusively for the use of international students - especially in Scotland, where locals pay absolutely nothing for their degrees. With that level of funding, it's no wonder only one Scottish institution made the list of the world's top 100 universities.
Yet regardless of the mixed signals David Cameron opts to shower over aspiring students in Asia, it's fair to say the UK is becoming more and more unwelcome to foreigners. That's all well and good for the nation's xenophobic voters, but it's also worth noting that, in scaring off foreigners, the Home Office is consequently chasing away the much-needed funding that British universities need in order to grow.
There's a bottom line here, and it's frustratingly simple. It doesn't take an economist to work out that Britain's poor show in the Times Higher Education rankings is a direct result of the government's financially reckless decision to try and keep out wealthy immigrants. But this self-inflicted academic decline has been a long time coming, and no one on Downing Street should feign surprise that foreigners are finally starting to notice. Higher education groups say this can be reversed by a surge in university funding; however, unless Westminster opts to perform a serious U-turn on its immigration reform, it's safe to say that British universities will only continue to tumble further and further down the league tables.