Britain’s increasingly hostile tone on migration risks creating a perception among students that it is not a welcoming country to study in, the vice-chancellor of Cambridge University told the Guardian.
Professor Leszek Borysiewicz told the newspaper that he opposed “crude” numerical limits on migrants, and praised Britain’s plural society as one of its greatest strengths.
The 345th vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge said that Cambridge had not been affected by falling applications, but cautioned that there was an emerging perception, particularly in India, that Britain was not welcoming.
In an interview with the Guardian, he said: “When I think of how my parents were welcomed to this country, I find that actually quite saddening. I do feel we are an open, democratic country and we should be setting the standards for the rest of the world, not hindering them.”
The numbers of students to all universities coming to the UK from India fell by 38% between 2011 and 2012, and those from Pakistan by 62%.
The Welsh-born son of Polish refugees who found sanctuary in Britain after the World War II, Borysiewicz said he “abhorred” the idea of a strict net migration target, set by ministers at 100,000 a year, saying numbers “hide the true potential benefit that people coming to Britain can actually have”.
Borysiewicz also urged a greater recognition of the value of bilingualism among first- and second-generation immigrant children, and warned that the decline in learning languages in the UK could limit the educational and career chances of poorer children. He said that German teaching in particular was disappearing from schools in Britain, and blamed the decline in language learning on the global dominance of English, combined with British “laziness” over picking up languages.