University leader speaks out on "good immigration"

Students
Image caption The University of Birmingham's chancellor has called for an increase in the number of international students

Immigration seems to be the big issue driving our politics - from every doorstep on every street, to Westminster, Brussels and beyond, right up to the general election and who knows for how long after that.

And this week's net migration figures will only add fuel to the argument.

Suddenly it's difficult to find anyone who has anything good to say about it at all.

But the recently installed Chancellor of the University of Birmingham Lord Karan Bilimoria says there is such a thing as "good immigration".

The Indian-born founder of the Cobra Beer empire told the Mail on Sunday earlier this month that Britain would pay a high price for its latest clampdown, which includes tougher rules on student visas.

He said David Cameron had made a "big mistake" by promising "unattainable" targets from which the home secretary now admits the government has been "blown off course".

'Lost control'

In his hard-hitting interview, Lord Bilimoria said: "The number of international students to Britain fell for the first time last year. And the number from India have collapsed by over 20%.

"Why? Because the government has an immigration policy that is sending out very damaging signals.

"I challenge the Home Secretary Theresa May to say how many illegal immigrants are there. She hasn't a clue because they've lost control of illegal immigration."

Image caption Lord Bilimoria was recently installed as chancellor at the University of Birmingham

Instead, he said there should be new targets to increase the numbers of international students. France plans to double its number of students from India by 2020.

The University of Birmingham is one of two members of the elite Russell Group of research-led universities here in the Midlands.

The other, Warwick, says its 5,000-plus international students bring in fees totalling nearly £90m, which is then reinvested to the benefit of British students.

"The government may say Britain is open for business but they're sending out a message that's not so welcoming," Warwick said.

Make an impression

The University of Birmingham, which charges slightly lower fees, has 4,500 international students, bringing in a total of nearly £60m.

Oh to have been a fly on the wall during this week's visit to India by Lord Bilimoria, accompanied by his vice chancellor and led by the universities minister Greg Clark.

Four months on from his installation as chancellor, Lord Bilimoria seems determined to be no mere ceremonial figurehead.

The signs are he could make an impression every bit as vivid as the coat he was wearing on that epic occasion.

And he will be one of our studio guests on this weekend's Sunday Politics show in the Midlands.

I will also be joined by the Conservative MP for The Wrekin Mark Pritchard and by the Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Barr Khalid Mahmood.

And I hope you will be with me me too, at 11:00 GMT on BBC One on Sunday.

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