Another thing that I wanted to write about that was in the news at the end of last month was something that demonstrated the impact that the Liberal Democrats are having in the coalition and something with direct consequences for Luton.
Immigration is one of the hottest political issues. Polls consistently show it as being one of the top concerns of the British public. So it was no surprise that a major part of the Conservatives pitch to the voters at the General Election last year was a pledge to reduce the number of new immigrants entering the UK. The Liberal Democrats as would be expected take a more ‘liberal’ approach to the issue, often stressing the importance of immigration to our economy. An approach which, although in general the right one, probably cost us at the election.
So within the coalition immigration is one of the areas of uneasiest compromise. The Home Office remains committed to a reduction in the number of immigrants but this is a promise they are finding it difficult to meet in practice. A key part of the approach they are taking to do this is a clampdown on people entering the country on student visas.
While nobody could argue that action targeted at bogus colleges offering fake courses is a good thing, there was serious concern from the higher and further education sector that the more draconian parts of the governments original proposals would cause severe damage to college finances and have a negative impact on the wider economy. This article in The Economist gives a good summary of the issues and from it we learn that overseas students pump at least £10 billion a year into the economy and that every ten full-time university students from outside the EU create three full-time British jobs.
The Universities’ concerns about the impact of these measures were shared by Liberal Democrats in government including Nick Clegg and, in particular, Business Secretary Vince Cable. So it was good news that pressure from the Liberal Democrats resulted in the eventual policy announcement made at the end of March including several significant concessions. According to the Financial Times; “The compromise deal follows weeks of bruising negotiations between Home Office ministers and their counterparts at the business department.”
More on this from another Liberal Democrat involved in securing this deal can be found on Liberal Democrat Voice; ‘Julian Huppert writes… Winning the fight on student visas‘.
What struck me was how important this is to the economy of Luton. Now you may not think of Luton as a traditional university town, but the University of Bedfordshire, which has its main campus in the town centre, is a major provider of courses to foreign students. Hundreds of young people come to the town to study each year. I haven’t seen any actual figures, but it is safe to assume that they represent a substantial injection of cash into our economy.
So I wasn’t surprised when the Vice Chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire, Professor Les Ebdon, backed the Government’s rethink, saying;
“this announcement is a clear signal that the UK is still open for business. International students play a key role in the economy and here at Bedfordshire, they contribute millions of pounds to the local economy.”
It would have been nice if he had thanked the Lib Dems though!