Let’s rediscover the welcome mat for overseas students

I’m currently on my sixth visit to India, partly to do some teaching as Birmingham City University seeks to strengthen the links it has established with partner institutions in Bangalore and Chennai and partly to recruit students to come to Birmingham to study.  
I have no problem with the ‘sales pitch’. It’s a good university with some very strong courses – not least in my own bit, Birmingham School of Media (you don’t have to take my word for that there are various independent measures that show it to be the case).
What I have been wondering, however, is why a student from India or any similar country should choose to study in the UK? I know all the arguments about the quality of the education they get at British universities and I know there’s still a lingering sense of attachment for Indians, at least, in opting for a UK qualification. There are, though, many factors that militate against choosing ‘us’ rather than Canada, say, or Australia.
There is no doubt that our Government was right to root out bogus colleges that were offering back door entry to the country, making offers for courses that barely existed on ‘campuses’ that were little more than a few rooms above a shop. But this much tougher approach to student visa applications has made life harder for thousands of genuine students applying for proper courses at genuine universities and that can’t be right.
Surely the bogus college racket was a form of fraud, in which case it – and those behind it – could and should properly have been dealt with by a concerted use of the criminal law. Genuine students with offers of places at recognised institutions need help and support through the application process and not to be given a sense that they are unwelcome.
While we are on the subject of a more humane and common sense approach to this, isn’t it time to rethink the restrictions on students being prevented from staying in the UK to work for a finite period – a year or two – after the successful completion of their studies. Students pay large sums to come to the UK to study; sums that are an important contribution to our economy. Many of them, and their families, take out loans to meet the cost of the course and/or the cost of living in the UK. Giving them some opportunity to earn and so to begin paying off this debt is important. Many other countries recognise this and are as a result attracting more students.
Meanwhile, the removal in Britain of these post study work arrangements is leading to a drop in the number of students who choose the UK – but more importantly it’s sending a message about our country that we may learn to regret. The students of today are the leaders of business, education and government of the future.  When they make decisions in years to come about partnerships, investment plans and collaboration are they likely to look kindly on the country that had mislaid the welcome mat when they were making choices about studying overseas?
There is no doubt that our Government was right to root out bogus colleges that were offering back door entry to the country, making offers for courses that barely existed on ‘campuses’ that were little more than a few rooms above a shop. But this much tougher approach to student visa applications has made life harder for thousands of genuine students applying for proper courses at genuine universities and that can’t be right.
Surely the bogus college racket was a form of fraud, in which case it – and those behind it – could and should properly have been dealt with by a concerted use of the criminal law. Genuine students with offers of places at recognised institutions need help and support through the application process and not to be given a sense that they are unwelcome.
While we are on the subject of a more humane and common sense approach to this, isn’t it time to rethink the restrictions on students being prevented from staying in the UK to work for a finite period – a year or two – after the successful completion of their studies. Students pay large sums to come to the UK to study; sums that are an important contribution to our economy. Many of them, and their families, take out loans to meet the cost of the course and/or the cost of living in the UK. Giving them some opportunity to earn and so to begin paying off this debt is important. Many other countries recognise this and are as a result attracting more students.
Meanwhile, the removal in Britain of these post study work arrangements is leading to a drop in the number of students who choose the UK – but more importantly it’s sending a message about our country that we may learn to regret. The students of today are the leaders of business, education and government of the future.  When they make decisions in years to come about partnerships, investment plans and collaboration are they likely to look kindly on the country that had mislaid the welcome mat when they were making choices about studying overseas?

The only way is ethics – even in India

There was something of an irony about spending a morning in Chennai exploring the issue of journalistic ethics with students at Anna University and then to learn after the session that Rebekha Brooks had been charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Every teacher has an element of the show pony and being able to drop that piece of fresh information into the workshop would have been a good moment – if only to underline the irony of a UK journalist talking to students anywhere about ethics at a time when the behavior of our profession is under close public scrutiny.
As it was, while phone hacking, Leveson, the Murdochs et al played a part in the discussion, they remained just one element of a presentation designed to look at ethics from a practical point of view. What I wanted the students to think about was how we can practice ethical journalism day by day in busy newsrooms. How do ethics fare in a world where competition is fierce and the ‘if we don’t do it they will’ argument is a strong one?  Then there’s the explosion of news sources – viewers’ footage shot on a mobile phone, Twitter messages from the scene of an incident, blogs posted by those caught up in news events.
We need look no further than ‘Gay Girl in Damascus’ for an example of how some basic principles of professionalism – like ensuing you’re interviewing a real person – could have given the lie to that apparently authentic take on the Arab Spring. Then there was the ‘user generated’ picture of the Polar Bear on an English beach used by an ITV regional newsroom – until they learned it was a cow. A few simple checks – and a dose of journalistic cynicism – might have prevented that embarrassment and stopped an untruth getting on air. (Interestingly, the students who saw the picture all immediately identified it as a Polar Bear.)
You might begin to see that what I believe we should consider is that ethical behavior and professional practice go hand in hand. The Leveson inquiry was created in the wake of the scandal of journalists employed by a Murdoch newspaper hacking mobile telephones to get information, only a tiny part of which could be deemed to be in the public interest. Leave aside the fact that hacking is illegal – it is poor journalism. That’s not just my view but the one Rupert Murdoch himself set out at the inquiry. It was, he said, lazy. For lazy, I contend, read ‘unprofessional’.
Since there is nothing more stomach turning than a journalist pontificating about the behavior of other journalists, let me offer a confession. One example of unethical behavior I shared with the students was from my own work. As I explained, I didn’t set out to paint a false picture of an event but by allowing my need to hurry to override my normal professional approach, that is what I did. In the global scheme of things it was a small error but one which had a disproportionate impact on a family. Since for them – and their circle – it damaged the reputation of my newspaper and, by association, of journalists, I regret it deeply even many years later.
There is an important task for us as educators of aspiring journalists. We need to explore with them what they see as the factors that might prevent them ‘doing the right thing’ and we need to offer them strategies to build their confidence when the pressure is on. They need a thorough understanding of law and regulation, including those laws involving electronic communication that we perhaps haven’t seen in the past as directly relevant.  They need help, too, to develop a clear understanding of the public interest and some personal skills to help them through difficult decisions.