Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Weaponised language: English, test centres, and UK immigration

I think I can speak for most of my colleagues when I say that we really enjoy teaching overseas students.  In my English in the World class, the mix of UK finalist undergraduates, visiting undergrads from places like France, Spain, Japan, Germany and Italy, and MA TESOL / Applied Linguistics students, most of whom are from overseas, makes for a lively and informed discussion which simply could not happen if it were not for the overseas student contributions. Overseas students enrich the learning environment in a way which brings immeasurable benefits, in my opinion; in my English in the World class alone, it allows home students to get a better understanding of the history and role of the language globally, and have first-hand experience of different varieties. And I am proud of the fact that our overseas students want to come to the UK and study at our universities. Overseas students: you are WELCOME.

This is not the message sent out by our government, however - and I am appalled by this.  I had understood the main issues to be the changes in visa arrangements for overseas students, including the inability to stay and seek work in the UK post-qualification, and the amount of monitoring academics now have to do of students on Tier 4 visas (for students not in the European Economic Area or Switzerland).

But no.

I knew there had been problems with some of the centres running tests of English, but it now turns out overseas applicants and some who are already studying in the UK for whom there is no evidence of cheating are having their visas cancelled, denied or - in extreme cases - being forcibly removed from the UK.  Many have asked to sit tests again to prove their proficiency and therefore eligibility to study in the UK. This has fallen on deaf ears.

I am not saying that people whose English is not up to the rigours of academic study in the UK should be admitted if they are applying for student visas.  But I believe strongly that - at minimum - those who are already here and being forcibly removed (around 1000 students/applicants, according to the article in the Guardian today), many mid-way through their studies, should be given the opportunity to be reassessed - if they desire it, having been subject to the current hostile environment in the UK.

Come on, Conservatives.  Stop sending out this message that overseas students are part of a wider problem. In order to provide a rich learning environment for all our students, engendering cultural awareness and understanding, the UK needs them.  These isolationist policies have no place in UK Higher Education.

The English language should not be used as a weapon like this.  Those days should be long gone. Let us use it to unite, not divide.