Keeping out the academic terrorists
I suppose we should be grateful to Mr Brown and his government for trying to keep out terrorists from our land. But the new visa regulations, which are meant to tighten our defences against potential suicide bombers, are a sledge hammer to crack a nut. They are likely to exclude more innocent academics than violent ideologues.
Surely there is a problem here. On the one hand we are told that the international distinction of the UK university system is a shining star in the national firmament. On the other, the intricate new rules (and points system that underlies them) for anyone wanting to come here from outside the EU make it more and more difficult for people actually to take academic jobs or pursue their research in the UK. It's no good having a wonderful international reputation if you cant be a real global academic player in the real world because people cant penetrate your borders to teach or study.
Imagine that you are a Classicist from, lets say, the United States -- a US citizen. You have just been offered a university job in this country. Will you get a visa to come here to take up the job? Your first port of call is likely to be the UK Border Agency website.
They have a handy calculator to see if you are likely to get a visa, based on the points you have accrued.
So what happens to our notional young academic from the States?
This is what the calculator tells you. You count as a skilled worker (Tier 2 general). You have been offered a job, so you are sponsored by your employer, you have a PhD and are going to earn more than £24,000 a year. So far so good. You get 65 points for that, when you only need a total of 50. You are also lucky because you are from an English speaking country, so get the necessary 10 points for the English language requirement. But the final question is more tricky. Have you had £800 in your bank account, solidly for the last 3 months with bank statements authenticated by your bank to prove it. Well. . . I can't think when that was last true of me. But if you haven't got that record, according to the points calculator, no go. No visa.
Actually, elsewhere, hidden away on the UKBA site you discover that you can have a guarantee from your future employer, instead of the bank statement...but it takes a bit of an effort to find that bit. And if you didn't have a PhD, or if you were coming to a very low paid fellowship (like many post-docs are) you would likewise be scuppered. Not enough points, no visa.
This is only the tip of the iceberg on the new immigration rules. Every job, if you might want a visa, has to be advertised at the Jobcentre - wherever else you choose to put it. (OK fine - good to bring academics down to earth, and make them part of the real world; but what is the practical point of this? Does it help the regular unemployed to see the ad. for the Cambridge Chair of Latin in the Job Centre?).
And some of the same regulations apply to would-be students too, like having to show you have 800 quid in your bank account for 3 months before you arrive as well as enough to cover the costs of the whole course before you start. OK perhaps if you have a government scholarship (and can show that all your expenses are covered), but hopeless if you are putting together all kinds of funding streams to pay for your course.
I'm told that some universities are planning to go into distance learning -- so they pick up the students overseas, enrol them in the UK, but dont ever make them come to this country, so they dont have to bother with all this visa stuff.
What mockery does that make of the idea of a university?