The Right Reverend Tim Dakin, Bishop of Winchester, has today called on the Government to take action to reverse a decline in the number of enrolments of international students at UK universities, saying that the recent drop “will not be in the interest of the British people”.
Bishop Dakin, the Bishop for Higher and Further Education, highlighted the contribution made by international students to British academic institutions in a House of Lords debate on the application of immigration policy to overseas students at UK universities and colleges. Emphasising the role of universities as places where students have the opportunity to explore different cultural, artistic, scientific and political experiences, he urged the Government to take action to ensure that international students could continue to study in the UK, saying that this was essential to preserve British universities as “true centres of wisdom and learning.”
The Bishop’s praise for the contribution made by international students was coupled with his expression of concern that the number of international students enrolling in British universities had already declined, citing evidence from one Oxford college that it “couldn’t exist” without EU students.
Bishop Dakin said: “The number of Indian first-year enrolments at UK universities fell by 10 per cent, from 11,270 in 2014 to 10,125 a year later. We would hope to see EU Students take up this additional capacity but, unfortunately, one of the Oxford colleges I visit has seen a 9% drop in EU Student applications this year already.”
The Right Reverend Tim Dakin, Bishop of Winchester’s, speech in full:
My Lords, I’d like to thank the Noble Lord Lucas for securing the time to have this very important debate. I should also like to begin by declaring several interests: as a Governor of Winchester University and the Visitor to the Oxford colleges of New College, Magdalene, Corpus Christi, Trinity and St Johns.
My Lords, universities have always been centres of wisdom and learning. Places filled with global-minded people, where political, cultural and geographical boundaries are transcended for the common good.
The value of studying abroad is unquestionable. How would scholarship look today if St. Augustine had been unable to complete his studies due to visa complications? Would we have heard of Thomas Aquinas if he had been turned back at the French border? And would “the world is everything that is the case” still be the case if Ludwig Wittgenstein was asked to produce a study permit on arriving in Britain?
Perhaps it is natural for me, a Bishop in the Church of England, and a member of a global community of faith, for these figures to come to mind. The point I wish especially to make though, is that in a modern world, where talk of globalisation and internationalism is constant, our universities should be at the centre of co-operation between nations, whether that be through scientific, artistic, intellectual or cultural endeavours, all of which help us to develop our understanding of the world around us and of our shared humanity.
My Lords, there are over 400,000 overseas students in the UK – almost one in five students. However, my Lords, it is not simply a matter of numbers, it is also about the positive impact which international students have on the communities in which they study. I’m sure many of you are aware that in a recent survey conducted by UUK, 8 out of 10 respondents agreed that international students have a positive impact on local economies and towns in which they study. Seventy-five per cent of those asked said they would like to see the same number, or more, international students in the UK, a figure which jumped to 87% once information on the economic benefits of international students was provided. And, whilst we acknowledge the economic and soft-power arguments we believe that allowing institutions to speak the common language of learning to be of higher priority in relation to university education. After all, the best universities are international communities of scholars.
Given this tremendous contribution, I urge the noble Lords to maintain this international quality as found in the best. However, there are some early indicators of concern. For example: international student numbers are beginning to fall. The number of Indian first-year enrolments at UK universities fell by 10 per cent, from 11,270 in 2014 to 10,125 a year later. We would hope to see EU students take up this additional capacity but, unfortunately, one of the Oxford colleges I visit has seen a 9% drop in EU student applications this year already. Whilst another college said that they couldn’t exist without them. A decline in the number of overseas students will not be in the interest of the British people, who mostly see them as a positive force, and will undermine the quality of our university education.
Above all, my Lords, let us see if we are able to ensure that what we have is a new era of student mobility, which cherishes the contribution made by our international students and helps keep our universities as true centres of wisdom and learning.