Opinionomics | 16 April 2012

Must-read comment and analysis. Featuring the future of newspapers, education, and Ed Milliband

1. Dependency cultures (Economist | Graphic Detail)

What distinguishes countries with a spiking bond yield from those without? Graphic Detail suggests that it may be proportion of foreign investment. Their chart could do with a few more data points, though…

2. Bryan Caplan’s signaling model and on-line education (Marginal Revolution)

Tyler Cowen applies an interesting (though wonkish) discussion to the topic of online education.

3. The Daily Melody (Economic Principals)

David Warsh looks at the economics of the newspaper industry.

4. Ed Miliband has saved the union link (LabourList)

Mark Ferguson looks at the fallout from Ed Miliband's attempt to take the lead on party funding.

5. Abolish budgets (Stumbling and Mumbling)

Chris Dillow wants to abolish the budget. Go for it!

Newspapers report on the sinking of the Titanic - but can the industry survive today? Credit: Getty

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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