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Science and immigration

Posted 09/01/2014 by cgodfrey

The lifting of work restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians coming to the UK since 1 January 2014 has reignited the ever contentious immigration debate. But while public surveys reveal a growing scepticism over the claimed benefits, many research institutions and scientific organisations warn that the UK economy depends on migrant workers for future growth and prosperity.

A British Social Attitudes Survey this week suggests that more than three-quarters want to see a cut in immigration, while nearly half of those surveyed thought immigration was bad for the economy. Responding to the survey, however, the UK’s Institution of Chemical Engineering (IChemE) pointed out that, ‘for engineering alone’, the UK will need around 87,000 graduate level engineers per year over the next 10 years. In 2013, we produced only 50,000.

‘One of the solutions is to make sure we attract and encourage talented migrants to come to the UK to help close these skills gaps,’ said IChemE’s chief executive David Brown.

That view was supported by Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE), whose assistant director Beck Smith also wrote on the topic for C&I in a Comment feature in March 2013 (page 11), which began by posing the question: ‘What do footballers, investors, entrepreneurs and ministers of religion have in common?’ The answer, we were told, is that they don’t count towards the government’s annual limit of around 22,000 non-EU economic migrants – a stark contrast to how scientists and engineers seeking work in the UIK are treated, according to Smith.

In 2008-2009, non-EU students in UK universities contributed tuition fee income alone of £4bn, Smith pointed out, particularly important in the sciences where international students account for over 40% of UK postgraduate students and 50% of those doing full-time degrees. Universities get 10% of their total income from non-EU students.

Such arguments, however, are unlikely to win over the general public, many of whom in areas like my own in West London are already witnessing for themselves the growing burden on local education and health services. The answers to the immigration debate would appear to be as elusive as ever.

Cath O’Driscoll- Deputy editor

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