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Language Learning and The Myth of Sustainable Immigration

What goes up, must come down.

What happens when your country becomes to popular for its own good? What would you do if your language turned out to be a huge crowd puller? Would you try to make the most of it, and get through the hard economic times by playing to your strengths?
Or…would you do what the British Government so triumphantly announced on Wednesday, and start systematically shooting yourself in the foot?

Today’s post is a response to a pretty recent development. As such, it’s quite chaotic and emotional at times. I hope you bear with me and get at least some useful information out of it. I’m going to write about how languages can shape nations’ identities – and fuel their fears at the same time. I’m going to ponder on some UK officials’ words that have been spoken and published in the last few days. And finally – I’m going to try to relate what happened, why I think it happened and what could happen next.

Here goes:

1) On 24th October this year, UKBA (British Border Agency) published a document containing details of financial institutions who will no longer be allowed to produce credible financial guarantees for students wishing to study in the UK. In simple words, and from an academic manager’s perspective:
– you need to show us you’ve got the money if you want to come and study in the UK.
– we need to see a financial guarantee from an institution to be sure we’ll get money from teaching you.
– if your institution is on UKBA’s list, you’re in trouble – and we won’t be able to enrol you.

2) On 2nd November, UKBA informed that “over 400 colleges” have lost their right to accept students from outside Europe, and that glaring omissions / inconsistencies were found whilst controlling many of them. It was found that many schools were not really teaching – but in practice offering an immigration service to people from abroad – which, of course, is against the UK rules.

3) The media have caught on to the topic yesterday, inspired to a large extent by PM’s comments in the Parliament (watch them here) and Immigration Minister’s comments. The latter, commenting upon the changes made, said that these changes “are beginning to bite” and that their goal is to “bring immigration levels back down to sustainable levels.

From a language educator’s point of view, this was not all good news. Sure, it’s comforting and reassuring to know that UK agencies are trying to separate the good schools from the fake ones. And it’s nice to know that if you really teach and care about it, you will not only be OK – but you’ll actually have less competition from the lazy rugger-buggers.

What worries us (English language schools in the UK) is the politics of it all. More specifically, the reasons behind these actions. It seems that the British government is driven by two forces in its actions: fear and anxiety.

I find it easy to understand both: UK is one of the central countries of a world which, for the past couple of years, has revolved around terrorist threats and economic crises. And UK has been hard hit by both these menacing forces. What the government does – or rather, what it tries to do – is inspired by the fear and anxiety, and seeks to allay both. We fear terrorists, so we won’t be taking chances on Pakistani banking agencies. We’re anxious about immigrants taking our jobs, so we’re going to cut their numbers down and make sure they don’t work while they’re here.

Here’s the curious thing. In a country whose government gives in to its fears and anxieties, it takes individual businesses, communities and people to provide a counterpoint. If your country is not giving the immigrants the love and respect they seek, who will provide it?

It is up to us – people who enrol students, who give them the education, help and respect they deserve. It is up to our teachers to provide the best experience possible. It is up to our managers to prove the ministers wrong, and demonstrate that good colleges for immigrants are the norm, rather than the exception.

Dear Britain: dare to be Great. Your language, industry and history make you unique. People are drawn to you like they were drawn to the U.S. once, lured by stories of a respectful country, an affluent society and a powerful language. They give British people jobs and help British businesses pay taxes. Don’t let them down.

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