I work in a voluntary capacity with international students in Bristol. I am also engaged in documenting the history of foreign students in the UK since 1960.
The current situation at London Metropolitan University demonstrates the Home Office's xenophobic ethos. Withdrawing London Met's highly trusted sponsor status has put back the progress made by international students here over the past 50 years.
In 1965, a collection of essays by African, Asian and West Indian students was edited by two academics, one from the University of Oxford, the other from the University of Edinburgh. The collection was published under the title Disappointed Guests. One former student from the Caribbean who had studied at the London School of Economics and Oxford considered the English reputation for xenophobia to be "well earned". He said that although there was no deep-seated objection to individual foreigners, there was a tendency to dismiss them en masse.
International students are a valuable revenue export for the nation, particularly during a period of recession. If the coalition is considering protectionism in the university sphere, we can expect retaliatory action. Theresa May and David Willetts must ask themselves: can the UK afford it?
The London Met saga is either an excuse for the government to show some crude muscle to appease the Murdoch-owned mass press and its readers, or a ploy to close down or privatise the university. If London Met goes down either road, which institution will be next? I would ask the government to show some moral fibre and give an amnesty to those international students currently enrolled at London Met so that they do not become the disappointed guests of the 21st century.
It would be even better if May were to call off the UK Border Agency attack dogs.