New Delhi: Cambridge University vice-chancellor Leszek Borysiewicz is critical of new immigration rules in the UK, saying they do not welcome foreign students. Borysiewicz, who describes himself as the “offspring of a first-generation immigrant”, said in an interview that changes in visa rules and recent action against London Metropolitan University over its foreign students had raised alarm among some sections. Edited excerpts:
What kind of tie-ups are you looking for with Indian institutes?
This is my third visit to India. From day one, I have been working to establish a working partnership with Indian institutions. This is based on the fact that we have 250 projects between academics in Cambridge and academics in India—probably the largest number for any UK university.
What I am particularly interested in is forging partnerships with top academic institutions, interaction with industry…to establish (further) the partnership here. It is based on excellence on both sides. Together we can put added value in tackling some of the big challenges...Not just the science, we are going to take humanities (as areas of cooperation).
How do you promote humanities along with science in Cambridge?
We have strategic teams to look at how we pursue research programmes. Some of the teams are led by people from the humanities. For example, we would look at acceptability of vaccines in a community. Whether a vaccine will be acceptable in a society depends on a whole lot of factors which is just not confined to a lab. We allow that debate to happen in the university.
London Metropolitan University recently lost its right to recruit international students for violating rules and several Indian students suffered. Before that there were changes in visa rules. How will this impact the UK as a destination for students?
Let me just start from Cambridge University. We made our opposition clear in relation to the government’s immigration policy. We are not supportive. We believe keeping a strong international presence enhances what universities want to do. We strive to get the brightest and best from around the world. We are very internationally focused from that perspective.
The London Metropolitan crisis does cause a real concern. It causes concern particularly because students were genuine there…they paid fees and now there is a question mark. It will create anxiety among students. So obviously we share some concern in that.
We have made clear that we are very concerned that this is not all about…more paper work. I can reassure potential students of Cambridge that we do welcome them. We have not had any difficulty with genuine students who come to us. Yes, there is more bureaucracy and paperwork than in the past.
As far as I am concerned, if Britain is perceived to be not as welcoming...I believe it should be, because remember, I am an offspring of first-generation immigrants.
Your university has a view on the state’s role in education. How do you see private investment in higher education?
At Cambridge, we work closely with the commercial sector in a number of areas. Where we establish linkages with the commercial sector, we absolutely keep the values of Cambridge in the forefront. If these values are threatened, then we will not get engaged in that partnership. And that is very well understood by the business and commercial sector.
I do know that those institutions that provide that engagement remain absolutely committed to maintaining the standards and values that are enshrined in higher education, academic freedom and all these important areas. There is place for interaction but it’s not absolute.
We...strongly believe the country can benefit by having a greater educated population. And that should be reflected by the commitment of taxpayers to support students. They will make the country far more equipped to deal with a knowledge-based economy. So I think it is a balance between the individual, the university and the government contribution.
It’s a complex equation. Frankly, it has to be decided by India because it may need different answers than what we come up with in the UK.
Some top US institutions have managed to get funding from leading Indian business houses. Is there any such move in Cambridge?
I will be delighted if we are able to attract that support. But I am also keen that some of that support supports partnerships that we build in India. So that the investments can actually be made in India and support the activities that Cambridge is engaged with. If we are talking about centres of excellence then there is every opportunity for people to support that…as it will help tackle some of the world’s problems by working together.