In the vice-chancellor’s annual oration today, Andrew Hamilton urged the government not to make it harder for foreign academics coming to the UK.
Professor Hamilton said a lack of financial support for top foreign students was also discouraging many postgraduates from studying at Oxford.
“New lower limits on the numbers of international academics we can recruit or retain poses serious risks — both scholarly and economic”, he said.
“Difficulties over visa applications as a result of current regulations and restrictions – and I could detail a number of examples from recent months – threatens to affect adversely the academic health of the university.
“I am pleased at the recent assurances given by ministers over their willingness to work with the higher education sector and with the UK Border Agency to remove what have been described as obstacles to the essential business of global intellectual exchange.
“Nevertheless I feel bound to point out, in rather more home-spun fashion, that the proof of the pudding is in the eating.”
He warned that the post 9/11 clampdown on student visas was a major factor in a 20 per cent slump in applications to study in the US, where he was formerly provost of Yale University.
“Restricting the free flow of the brightest and best academics and students is an area where heeding the experience of the US may serve us well,” he said.
He also criticized the “scant attention” given to postgraduate studies in the government’s White Paper on higher education, saying a lack of support for top overseas students could harm Britain’s long-term economic competitiveness.
“The health of the UK’s research base depends critically on the supply of talented graduates,” he said.
“Research students in particular are the engine of ground breaking experimentation, and just as they are drawn to working here with leading academics, so too are we able to recruit the best academics because of the quality of Oxford’s research students.
“Against this rapidly evolving and increasingly challenging international backdrop, it was both noteworthy and regrettable that the recent government White Paper on higher education gave graduate studies scant attention.”
Oxford has called for further work to be done on this in its response to the paper.
Professor Hamilton said: “Last year Sir Adrian Smith produced a review for the government entitled One Step Beyond: Making the most of postgraduate education in the sector.
“In its response, the government stated that it planned ‘no further changes to postgraduate funding’, though it would keep the matter under review.
“In reflecting on this unsatisfactory state of affairs, I have to confess I was reminded that the phrase ‘One Step Beyond’ was also a signature tune back in the late seventies of a group rejoicing in the name of ‘Madness’.”