Keep Europeans welcome

March 20, 1998

The House of Lords has been taking evidence on European student exchange programmes. Discussion has focused on the imbalance between the number of European Union students coming to Britain and the numbers of Britons going to Europe. We are net importers of about 45,000 students, although the majority do not come through formal exchange programmes.

European students come because we speak English; because degree courses are shorter; because general conditions for study are better; and because until now it was free.

It is bizarre that such success should be regarded as a problem. By all means look for ways to encourage more students from Britain to study abroad - as the government is by excusing students fees for intercalated years. But it is not sensible for senior civil servants to suggest, in talks with vice-chancellors and college principals (page 52), limiting the numbers of European Union students accepted here.

Higher education is one of this country's most successful knowledge-based global industries (to use the catchphrases of the day). We must make the most of it. We need to extend contacts in Europe. We need to keep in touch with intellectual currents outside this country. The best way to do so is through people.

It may be that suggestions for limiting numbers of Europeans were meant only to apply to formal programmes. If so that should be made clear - and even that should be reconsidered. European students are an asset and should continue to be welcomed.

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