A degree of immigration is okay as long as it is of the right quality, right?

Immigrants have, predictably, been getting a hard time at the Conservative party conference. Plans are afoot to ensure that we can dispense with the dastardly lot who take advantage of good old British generosity by manning (and womanning) the health service.

Amber Rudd followed this up by taking aim at overseas students. Amber wants to restrict the number of students coming to study in the UK. The basis on which the restriction will be applied seems to be the ‘quality’ of the institution the student would attend and the ‘quality’ of the course they would do.

This announcement should speed the decision making of any non-UK academics still undecided as to whether Britain is a place to build a career. We are about to go for a hard Brexit, it is doubtful whether British  academic institutions will be eligible for European funding and now we do not want those pesky fee paying foreign students, who’s partners and spouses have the audacity to work and pay tax during their time here.

This is bound to be popular in the week the Nobel prizes were announced. So many British academics were winners, none of whom actually work in UK institutions (see previous post).

I think we should use the quality of the degree studied as a limiting factor in deciding whether people are suitable to occupy other positions in society, like, for instance, I don’t know… Home Secretary.

Amber Rudd has degree in History, the level of the award does not appear to be in the public domain, perhaps she did not achieve honours. Theresa May has a degree in Geography, second class.  Our Brexiteers of Boris, Fox and Davis possess a more impressive array of higher qualifications, respectively they have degrees in ancient literature and classical philosophy, medicine and a joint honours in Molecular Science/Computer Science. Davis went on to get further degrees from London Business School and Harvard.

Incidentally, it appears Home Sec. Amber went straight from her general degree in history to working for J. P. Morgan. This is not a typical trajectory for a history graduate. I guess being the direct decedent of Charles II probably means you have connections #meritocracy. Indeed, this is exactly what I expect meritocracy means for Conservatives, i.e. we, and other advantaged people like us obviously have merit, so we must make sure we continue to be advantaged. This is certainly one possible way to explain passages of Rudd’s speech, which, on the one hand is pitched as tough on immigration, but includes a chilling subtext about the value of some people over others.

Take the statement that the’ student immigration system … treats every student and university as equal [and this] only punishes those we should want to help’? It is difficult to understand who will be helped if overseas students are only allowed access to elite universities in the UK. If you want working class Joe (or Jane) to go to Oxbridge then excluding overseas students from Hogwarts seems a more intuitive way to open the door. It would be interesting to know what criteria defines Rudd’s interpretation of inferior students and institutions.

Rhetoric like this is not supposed to have meaning it is simply intended to sound like the right message. This one sounds like foreign students take places poor British students could have and by jingo we’ll put a stop to this. Another message implied by Rudd’s statement is the idea that there are two groups of people. There are those people who go to the right universities and do the right quality courses, then there are those who go to some abomination of an institution, which probably only got called a university last century, and heaven only knows what nonsense their soft minded heads are filled with while there.

May’s allusion, in her speech, to the helping hand one Brownlee brother gave to the other, at the end of their recent triathlon, is a good example of the Conservative view of merit and equality. Here we have two athletes, already at the top of a sport and who are related to one another. A still vertical Alistair helped an exhausted Johnny over the finish line as he faltered close to the end of a world triathlon series event. The Brownlee brothers train together to maintain their position at the top of the sport, nothing wrong with that, competitive advantage and all. As a metaphor for the type of social ‘helping hand’ the Conservatives want this seems entirely appropriate. After all, descendants of royal mistresses might need ‘help’ to make sure they go from non-vocational degrees into extremely advantages occupations.

People with degrees in history and geography are running the country. Following this period, where we have done our best to tell everyone born out with earshot of the Bow Bells they are not welcome, I wonder if degrees in these subjects will be deemed of sufficient quality for those who might still want to study here.


Thomas Paine was a dude, Amber Rudd and Theresa May should read up on him.


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