Politics | This state-imposed persecution of the UK’s international students must end

In a letter published today in Ceasefire, more than a hundred UK academics, activists, and students write in to raise the alarm over Home Office policies towards non-EU colleagues and students, and warn that such policies are not only discriminatory but are causing irreparable damage to British higher education.

New in Ceasefire, Politics - Posted on Monday, December 1, 2014 17:22 - 7 Comments

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A protester holds a placard outside the Home Office in central London following the government's decision to strip London Metropolitan University of its right to sponsor visas for overseas students. (Photograph: Carl Court/AFP/Getty Images)

A protester holds a placard outside the Home Office in central London following the government’s decision to strip London Metropolitan University of its right to sponsor visas for overseas students. (Photograph: Carl Court/AFP/Getty Images)

Non-EU academic staff, especially those who have completed their PhD research in the UK, are finding themselves at the mercy of an exploitative neoliberal higher education system that is bolstered by the Home Office’s punitive immigration policies, making it incredibly difficult to gain a work visa despite being offered employment. As indicated in a Times Higher Education piece in January 2014, universities are being discouraged from hiring non-EU academics, despite many of them being top scholars in their field. In other instances, non-EU scholars are increasingly being denied visas to attend academic conferences and to work on collaborative projects with their British counterparts

We do not believe that preventing non-EU scholars from entering the UK to take part in the production of knowledge and research helps our universities to maintain their world class position.

However, the situation for non-EU international students who are already here is also appalling. While we saw British students decry the heavy-handed police involvement on campuses last year as part of the #CopsOffCampus initiative and, in particular, the horrendous treatment suffered by Defend Education Birmingham protesters on the University of Birmingham campus, little is known about police surveillance inflicted on non-EU students from a selection of countries, who are forced to register with the police by their visa requirements. In some universities, most notably at Ulster University and Sunderland University, non-EU international students are subjected to biometric fingerprinting and further humiliating surveillance. We fail to understand how treating non-EU international students like criminals constitutes a welcoming and hospitable environment.

Adding insult to injury, academics are being told they are obliged to inform the Home Office if they have any suspicions that a student is breaching the conditions of his or her leave to remain in the UK, or if the student is engaging in ‘suspicious behaviour.’ The discriminatory treatment of non-EU international students doesn’t stop there. Despite non-EU international students paying exorbitant tuition fees -from £14,000 to over £20,000- that in turn helps fund the studies of British students; from May 2015, students and workers from outside the EU will have to pay a ‘NHS surcharge’ of up to £200 per year before they are given a visa.

And what happens to non-EU international students who encounter substandard education and services at their universities? Instead of the educational provider being penalised for their failure to provide for the needs of their students, it is the students who have faced the wrath of UKBA, as witnessed by students at London Metropolitan University in 2012 and now at Glyndwr University, who were forced to find another educational provider within 60 days or face deportation. Why should non-EU international students be punished in such a draconian manner for the failings of their universities?

As National Union of Students (NUS) International Officer, Shreya Paudel has remarked,

‘We have been informed of some students being called for a “meeting” with the Home Office and then being detained to be deported. Even proven British criminals have substantially more rights to challenge a case against them than international students. Even the minimum legal concept of ‘innocent before proven guilty’ does not apply to international students.’

The state- and media-imposed xenophobia directed at non-EU international students has now led to increased racist verbal and physical attacks, and even outright murder, as we witnessed this summer in Essex in the case of a Saudi international PhD student at Essex University, Nahid Almanea. Initiatives such as the I’m Not Welcome Campaign have documented many incidents of both racial and xenophobic attacks on and off campus against non-EU international students, especially those who are people of colour. The campaign also underscores the failure of universities, the Home Office, and the student movement to understand the particular needs of non-EU international students and academic staff.

The xenophobic and racist rhetoric faced daily by non-EU international students is exemplified by the comments of Nigel Carrington, Vice Chancellor of the University of Arts London (UAL), who said in August 2014 to The Independent that while non-EU international students are needed in order to prevent an increase in tuition fees for British students, they ‘undermine our economy’ because they take away the skills honed in the UK and use them to ‘go home and build their creative industries to compete against us.’ Mr. Carrington fails to question why non-EU international students and academic staff leave the UK and let their skills flourish elsewhere. He would do well to reflect on how fanning the flames of xenophobia in this way will affect the already hostile environment against migrants where racial attacks are frequent thanks to Theresa May’s policies and the notorious ‘go home’ vans.

Further, Mr. Carrington appears to be unaware that it is now impossible for non-EU international students to remain legally in the UK after they finish their courses if they do not have a job offer, because in 2012 the government phased out the post-study work visa (which allowed non-EU international students the right to seek work for 2 years in the UK), replacing it with a graduate entrepreneur visa, requiring ‘genuine and credible’ business ideas. Mr. Carrington, like many other university vice-chancellors, clearly regards non-EU international students as cash cows who are essential if they themselves are to retain their inflated six figure salaries and luxury lifestyles. It is they who are running British higher education to the ground, not non-EU international students and academic staff.

Even more shameful is the treatment of those non-EU academics and students who dare to speak out against the rampant neoliberalism within higher education and the way universities use their precarious immigration status to force them out of the country in order to silence their voices and activism. Ongoing cases and campaigns like that of Sanaz Raji (Justice4Sanaz campaign) and past threats directed at Dr. Casey Brienza by her employer regarding her immigration status are only two examples of a widespread abuses in this context. The fact that non-EU academics and students cannot challenge a university for continually failing to meet its own standards speaks volumes about the nature of the once highly regarded British higher education system.

We call for an end to state-imposed xenophobia and racism against non-EU international students and an end to draconian restrictions placed upon them. We call for a fairer system that does not penalise non-EU academics and students or seek to limit their contributions. Without these changes British higher education will inevitably become more insular and mediocre and unable to achieve and maintain world-class standards.

Finally, we call on other UK academics to speak out and take a lead as professionals and intellectuals against turning the country’s higher education institutions into a racist money making endeavour, destroying the spirit and integrity of the very idea of knowledge and learning.

Please consider adding your name to our petition on change.org

1. Sanaz Raji, Justice4Sanaz Campaign
2. Elaha Walizadeh, NUS London Women’s Officer
3. Gordon Maloney, NUS Scotland, President
4. Anzir Boodoo, Research Postgraduate, University of Leeds
5. Roza Salih, NUS International Students’ Officer, Vice President Diversity and Advocacy at University of Strathclyde Students Association
6. Georgie Robertson, SOAS Students’ Union Co-President Welfare & Campaigns
7. Deborah Hermanns, National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC)
8. Dr. Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi, University of Exeter
9. Tania Sauma, International Students Officer, Uniersity of Manchester Students’ Union, I’m Not Welcome Campaign
10. Mollie Hanley, SOAS Students’ Union Co-Women’s Officer
11. Piers Telemacque, NUS Vice President, Society and Citizenship
12. Haley McEwen, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
13. Dr. Adi Kuntsman, Manchester Metropolitan University
14. Professor David Palumbo-Liu, Stanford University
15. Lee Jasper, Movement Against Xenophobia
16. Zita Holbourne, Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC)
17. Hannah Slydel, SOAS Students’ Union Co-Women’s Officer
18. Dr. Yoke-Sum Wong, Lancaster University
19. Geoffrey Humble, PhD student, University of Birmingham
20. Dr. Ruth Preser, ICI Berlin Institute for Cultural Inquiry
21. Zekarias Negussue, NUS BSC, NEC Rep and Environment and Welfare Officer, Bradford University Student Union
22. Naomi Anderson Whittaker, BME Students’ Campaigns Coordinator, University of Leeds
23. Het Philips, PhD student, University of Birmingham
24. Sam Ambreen, Activist
25. Aren Aizura, Assistant Professor, University of Minnesota
26. Ari Diaz-Cebreiro, NUS Black Students Committee and UCLU BME Network
27. Trenton Oldfield, This Is Not A Gateway
28. Deepa Naik, Myrdle Court Press
29. Kirsty Day, PhD student, University of Leeds
30. Carlus Hudson, Guild Councillor, Exeter University Students’ Guild
31. Saqib Deshmukh, Justice4Paps
32. Mark LeVine, Professor, University of California Irvine & Lund University
33. Hannah Murray, PhD student, University of Nottingham
34. Gwyneth Lonergan, PhD student, University of Manchester
35. Mehrdad Azmin, Postgraduate Research Student, University College London
36. Michal Alfred-Kamara, Student, King’s College London
37. Sima Shakhsari, Assistant Professor, Wellesley College
38. Zarah Sultana, NUS NEC
39. Francesca Biancani, Adjunct Professor, Bologna University
40. Dr. Kalpana Wilson, London School of Economics and Political Science
41. Gabriel Varghese, PhD student, University of Exeter
42. Sarbjit Johal, South Asia Solidarity Group
43. Kimberley Marlin, undergraduate student, University Of The West Of Scotland
44. Amrit Wilson, South Asia Solidarity Group
45. Dr. Tina Gharavi, Newcastle University
46. Sai Englert, SOAS UCU and NUS Postgraduate Representative
47. April Reilly, Student, University of Birmingham
48. Jake Céileachair, Student, University College London
49. Manishta Sunnia, Oxford Brookes University, former NUS International Student Officer
50. Malaka Mohammed, Education Officer, Sheffield University Student Union
51. Kae Smith, NUS NEC
52. Yahya Birt, PhD candidate, University of Leeds
53. Ducan Davis, Vice President of Environment and Social Justice Committee, University of Nottingham Student Union
54. Jack Wyse, Development Officer, Sheffield Univesity Student Union
55. Adam Feneley, PhD Researcher, Brunel University London
56. Deborah Fenney Salkeid, PhD student, University of Leeds
57. Pete Kennedy, Chair, Doncaster Green Party
58. Shreya Paudel, NUS International Students’ Officer
59. Noorulann Shahid, NUS LGBT Committee
60. Steve Graby, PhD student, University of Leeds
61. Hayk Yeghiazaryan, MSci Mathematics, Imperial College London
62. Adeline Koh, Associate Professor of Literature and Director of DH@Stockton, Richard Stockton College of New Jersey
63. Robert T. Tally Jr., Associate Professor, Texas State University
64. Nadje Al-Ali, Professor of Gender Studies, SOAS, University of London
65. Ali Abbas, Research Associate, MRC Epidemiology, Cambridge University
66. Amparo Lasen, Professor, University of Complutense of Madrid
67. Adam Miyashiro, Assistant Professor of Literature, The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey
68. Jo Holoway, Activist
69. Dr. Catherine Baker, Department of History, University of Hull
70. Malia Bouattia, NUS Black Students’ Officer
71. Bahar Mustafa, Goldsmiths College, University of London Student Union Welfare and Diversity Officer
72. Sarah Dagha, University of Sheffield
73. Sarah El-alfy, Goldsmiths College, University of London Student Union Edcation Officer
74. Howard Littler, Goldsmiths College, University of London Student Union President
75. Jin Haritaworn, Assistant Professor, York University
76. Bethan Jones, PhD candidate, Aberystwyth University
77. Hannah Boast, PhD candidate, University of York
78. Golbarg Bashi, Professor of History, Pace University
79. Agnes Khoo, PhD, Freelance Researcher (UK/Ghana)
80. Shruti Iyer, King’s College London Intersectional Feminist Society
81. Mostafa Rajaai, Cultural and Diversity Officer for University of the Arts London Student Union and NUS International Students’ Committee Member
82. Aisling Gallagher, Goldsmiths College, University of London and NUS Disabled Students’ Committee
83. Dr. Rhona O’Brien, University of Cumbria
84. Hilary Aked, PhD candidate, University of Bath
85. Neil Sadler, PhD student, Translation and Intercultural Studies, University of Manchester
86. Jon Warner, NUS London and Birkbeck Student Union
87. Adam Elliott-Cooper, NUS Black Students’ Campaign, Postgraduate Representative
88. Kat Slater, MA graduate, Translation and Interpreting Studies, University of Manchester
89. Manchester No Borders
90. Leeds No Borders
91. Murali Shanmugavelan, PhD student,Centre for Media Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London
92. Danny Evans, PhD candidate, University of Leeds
93. Koen Leurs, Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellow, London School of Economics and Political Science
94. Jessica Try, Peace Studies, University of Bradford
95. Areeb Ullah, Vice President of Education at King’s College London Student Union
96. Mark Boothroyd, Unite
97. Shaista Patel, PhD candidate, University of Toronto
98. Naz Massoumi, PhD candidate, University of Bristol
99. Dr. David Dyke, Lecturer, Staffordshire University
100. Omra O Sullivan, Activist.
101. Oscar Frandsen – Vice President, Leeds University Amnesty International Society
102. Movement for Justice by Any Means Necessary
103. Antonia Bright, SOAS UNISON Black Members’ Officer
104. Anindya Bhattacharyya, rs21.org.uk
105. Teodora Todorova. University of Nottingham

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7 Comments

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Sofia Mason
Dec 1, 2014 19:40

Please add my name

Sofia Mason, PhD, Royal Holloway, University of London.

Sanaz
Dec 1, 2014 20:06

Hi Sofia- if you want to add your name, please sign the Change.org petition that we have set up:

https://www.change.org/p/rt-hon-david-cameron-mp-stop-victimising-non-eu-scholars-and-students

Thank you!

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