World-class universities vs the Human Resources Compliance Unit
Britain has a good number of world class universities, and many more than you would expect for its population and GDP. One of the things that KEEPS those universities world class is the exchange of lectures, seminars, examiners etc across the globe.
So, reflect on this: just recently a directive has come down to us from the "management" (as I have regretfully come to call the administration.. only 10 years ago they felt like my "colleagues"), explaining that in future we will only be allowed to appoint external examiners for PhDs from those who have a right to work in the UK (ie no Americans, Australians whatever). Apparently, so our "Human Resources Compliance Unit" (I am not joking) assures us, reading a PhD thesis, writing a report and giving the candidate a viva of (say) two hours counts as "employment". So if you are appointed to do this, you need to prove your eligibilty to work in this country, by showing your passport.
If this is correct (and I mean IF), then this is just one little blow to the idea of the UK as a home of world class scholarship.
In my Faculty, we normally use UK scholars to examine PhDs (we don't squander travelling expenses), but sometimes students have been researching subjects that really do require an non-EAA examiner. Tony Grafton of Princeton, for example, may be one of the very few people in the world properly qualified to examine a specialised PhD -- but he would no longer be appointable, at least on this interpretation of the law. And indeed it is lucky that the recently appointed "Australian" examiner, who has just taken on one of our theses, turned out to have a UK passport.
So what are our options? Well, HR seems to offer none (so much for being a world class university at the cutting edge of international research.... or should we now say "European" research). One idea in my neck of the woods is that we do it all by video link, so that the examiner doesn't have to come into the country (so much for those face to face exchange of views that make academic life worth living and top notch); another is that we fly the candidate and the external examiner to the US or Australia or wherever. Or maybe we just use the Channel Islands.
This is a just tiny example of new immigration madness. But the idea that the best students in Cambridge should not be examined by the best and most appropriate scholars in the world MUST make mockery of our clain to be one of the top universities on the planet (for that is what the international community of scholars is all about). And indeed why should reading a PhD thesis count as "employment" anyway? Could our HR department have actually got this wrong?
The next thing they will be telling us is that when we invite people to give our prestige endowed lectures, we will only be able to invite those with a right to work here.
This can't be what the immigration legislation intended. But, for what it is worth, any university which asks me to produce my passport before I accept the 100 quid for a minimum of 25 hours work examining a PhD thesis can BOG OFF.