Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. America has lost the battle over government (Financial Times)

Both parties are accomplices to the premeditated asphyxiation of the state, says Jeffrey Sachs.

2. To hell with Gradgrinds – go to university (Independent)

It matters that we live in a country that no longer believes in training minds from all backgrounds, says Laurie Penny.

3. It’s Sweden that Assange fears, not America (Times) (£)

Whether the WikiLeaks founder likes it or not, he is no political refugee, says David Aaronovitch. But he has a real case to answer in law.

4. If Romney beats Obama, Ryan will set the tone and call the shots (Guardian)

The candidate is no Sarah Palin, and should he come to office he could be a tough foil to an indecisive president, writes Martin Kettle.

5. China’s very different election show (Financial Times)

The country’s democratic process is in full swing, but the result of the election will not be left to chance, says David Pilling.

6. A-level results: a day to celebrate (Guardian)

Don't listen to the cynics and the grumblers, writes David Willetts. Opportunities are being opened up in higher education like never before.

7. We volunteered for Games, but not for Big Society (Independent)

Volunteering at the London Olympics was a glorious one-off, but a one-off nonetheless, writes Mary Dejevsky.

8. The reason I won't be buying Fifty Shades of Grey loungewear (Guardian)

What do EL James' trilogy, Cosmopolitan and cosmetic surgery have in common? They seem to be about sex, when really they are about shopping, says Zoe Williams.

9. I hate to say it, but Boris is right: The government must stop pussyfooting around (Daily Mail)

As one alarming statistic after another confirms the dire state of the British economy, we should be in no doubt that the Government is fiddling while Rome burns, writes Daniel Johnson.

10. Our South Africans are on a sticky wicket (Daily Telegraph)

Kevin Pietersen is only one of many to use the England team for his own selfish ends, says Peter Oborne.

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Why Theresa May won't exclude students from the net migration target

The Prime Minister believes the public would view the move as "a fix". 

In a letter to David Cameron shortly after the last general election, Philip Hammond demanded that students be excluded from the net migration target. The then foreign secretary, who was backed by George Osborne and Sajid Javid, wrote: "From a foreign policy point of view, Britain's role as a world class destination for international students is a highly significant element of our soft power offer. It's an issue that's consistently raised with me by our foreign counterparts." Universities and businesses have long argued that it is economically harmful to limit student numbers. But David Cameron, supported by Theresa May, refused to relent. 

Appearing before the Treasury select committee yesterday, Hammond reignited the issue. "As we approach the challenge of getting net migration figures down, it is in my view essential that we look at how we do this in a way that protects the vital interests of our economy," he said. He added that "It's not whether politicians think one thing or another, it's what the public believe and I think it would be useful to explore that quesrtion." A YouGov poll published earlier this year found that 57 per cent of the public support excluding students from the "tens of thousands" target.

Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, has also pressured May to do so. But the Prime Minister not only rejected the proposal - she demanded a stricter regime. Rudd later announced in her conference speech that there would be "tougher rules for students on lower quality courses". 

The economic case for reform is that students aid growth. The political case is that it would make the net migration target (which has been missed for six years) easier to meet (long-term immigration for study was 164,000 in the most recent period). But in May's view, excluding students from the target would be regarded by the public as a "fix" and would harm the drive to reduce numbers. If an exemption is made for one group, others will inevitably demand similar treatment. 

Universities complain that their lobbying power has been reduced by the decision to transfer ministerial responsibility from the business department to education. Bill Rammell, the former higher education minister and the vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire, said in July: “We shouldn’t assume that Theresa May as prime minister will have the same restrictive view on overseas students that Theresa May the home secretary had”. Some Tory MPs hoped that the net migration target would be abolished altogether in a "Nixon goes to China" moment.

But rather than retreating, May has doubled-down. The Prime Minister regards permanently reduced migration as essential to her vision of a more ordered society. She believes the economic benefits of high immigration are both too negligible and too narrow. 

Her ambition is a forbidding one. Net migration has not been in the "tens of thousands" since 1997: when the EU had just 15 member states and the term "BRICS" had not even been coined. But as prime minister, May is determined to achieve what she could not as home secretary. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.