Academia, Immigration and Perception in a Post-Brexit World

Writer | Peter Latham

Rivers of blood are one of the many links that have bound Indian and British politicians. Yet, they are also symbolic of everything which divides their two nations. Enoch Powell spoke of them with reference to the destruction of the British people, Gandhi of the liberation of the Indian people. Decades later, the issues remain identical, now that Theresa May is taking a hard-line against Indian wishes for more lenient student visas. Her stance may project the image of a strong confrontation of immigration, but it is an image which continues to reaffirm the detached nature of the government.


Indeed, Universities UK found that 88 percent of Britons do not believe international students should be considered immigrants. This lack of understanding promotes discontent and anger at the lack of government comprehension and continues fuelling the alienation which contributed to Brexit.

This discontent is also international. Keith Bennett spoke of Indian indignation: ‘We want [Indian] money and business but are not willing to teach their children’. Such perceptions are dangerous, especially in the post-expert world of Michael Gove. The irrationality of human emotions necessitates that Britain must project a careful image rather than rely on the economic numbers. Too business-like and states will perceive greed and aloofness. Too much nostalgic obsequiousness and Britain will be disregarded.

Following the Brexit vote, it is crucial to promote a welcome atmosphere to avoid a brain drain. The benefits of retaining academic expertise certainly outweigh the costs. Studies in Britain form a personal bond–approximately 60 percent of these ‘informal ambassadors’ stated their views of Britain changed, contributing towards a more sympathetic perception of Britain, with a better comprehension of British values. This enhances British soft power–the ‘ability to attract and co-opt as a means of persuasion’. Economic benefits are also evident. International students contribute 14 billion dollars to the British economy, alongside worldwide business links graduates establish. Other returns are innumerable and provide Britain with significant advantages.

Higher education also offers a potential negotiating chip with foreign nations. Theresa May must be prepared to be hard-nosed, yet willing to make a compromise when needed. The potentially increased international student numbers is a justifiable concession, particularly if international students are removed from net migration figures. The victory of Donald Trump was ‘Brexit plus-plus-plus’. If academics are uneasy about remaining in Britain, the USA faces bleaker prospects. Britain must take advantage of these opportunities in a post-Brexit world.

Integration is key–immigration deeply affected the referendum, but it would be wrong to cry xenophobia. The British are a welcoming people, yet reservedly proud of their culture and heritage. Thus, more must be done to address the ghettoisation and division of British communities affected by immigration. Should integration succeed, tension and the ‘us-versus-them’ narrative will be reduced.

Theresa May noted Britain and India ‘share so much history’. What does she mean by this? Undoubtedly, she looks to the positive aspects. There may be much to appreciate here, but it is vital she recognises the lessons. India in 1947 was in the midst of a disentanglement from a sub-continental union under remote rule for centuries. Britain in 2016 is readying to enter the maelstrom of withdrawal from a continental union directed from Brussels with which it has been entwined for decades. The Indian experience was one of communal destruction, violence and 70 years of animosity with neighbours. The British experience must be different. For if it is not, the red tide will turn and rivers of blood will flow.


This article was published in our November 2016 issue.

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