Britain is full of brains. Every year, our universities jostle with America's for the top slots in the league tables. Foreign students know this - and come to study here precisely because of our academic capital. But I am concerned that simplistic, downright misleading rhetoric from the other two parties is going to harm our national interests. We rely hugely on migrants in the NHS - at all levels, from doctors to health care workers. Leaving that issue aside, there's another problem in the traditionally Tory heartland of business. Foreign students trained by our universities with the best skills and ideas to generate business are choosing to take their training home. A simplistic debate over immigration will force potential wealth creators overseas.
It's no wonder really. Judging by Conservative rhetoric, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the UK isn't open to the talents of anyone from anywhere outside the UK, regardless of the economic benefits they might bring. The Government has tried to make provision for entrepreneurs who want to stay and generate businesses and jobs here, creating a new visa - the Graduate Entrepreneur Visa - to allow business-minded graduates a limited time to start their business here. But take up is pitiful. A recent survey by The Entrepreneurs Network found that "Just 2% of respondents intending to start a business following graduation applied for the UK Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa, with almost two thirds, 62%, saying they didn't even consider it... only 18% think that the UK has better post-study processes in place for international students than other countries; 32% think it is worse than other countries."
Every business was started by someone with a good idea and the passion, vision and resources to carry it out. We train up some of the best international brains. Six of the world's top universities are in London - more than any other city in the world. Britain is a university superpower, second only to the US, and yet we don't think strategically about keeping hold of the business talent we're training. The Lib Dems want a Britain that is open for business - and that includes giving the students we've trained the chance to give back by creating businesses here, rather than in a competitor country.
Pollsters will say that migration is one of the main concerns of this election. An ill-fated and simplistic response by politicians to this issue will not address their concerns. A cap will do nothing to address the problems that Britain faces. Low pay will not be solved by a migrant cap. The housing crisis will not be solved by a migrant cap (8 million extra babies were born in this country from 2000 - 2012. That's a baby boom equivalent to the post-war baby boom).
We as a party have always valued evidence - using evidence to understanding the problem correctly as well as to solve it. I don't want low paid workers to be pushed out of jobs. I want them paid a living wage. I want a healthy economy full of the best minds creating jobs. And quite a lot of them are trained by the best universities, creating jobs and paying into our public services. Take Lord Bilimoria, who writes the forward to the report: "I came up with the idea for my own business, Cobra Beer, while studying Law at Cambridge, and since starting from scratch over two decades ago we have been able to build Cobra Beer into a household name in the UK."
We need to regain control over migration - bureaucratic failures are unacceptable. But also we need to regain control over how we think about the issue. We want a system that is fair and compassionate - getting communities the extra money they need from European funds, designed to pay for extra schools and homes. Helping genuine refugees with support into a new independent life, where they can work, learn English and to be part of this country. Letting inaccurate stereotypes fuel the debate will harm our country in the long run.Suggest a correction