February 15, 2007

The State of Britain

The Economist, 02.02.07

There are three important issues surrounding the globalisation discourse in Britain that have escaped your attention in your lead article “You’ve never had it so good”. First, it is all very fashionable to suggest ethnic minorities to accept equal treatment in front of the law, but what is often left unquestioned is the extent to which the law is neutral itself. A debate over whether a Sikh man should be allowed to drive a motorbike without a helmet is far from settled. Second, the ground reality is that sections of the so-called ethnic majority demand assimilation and not integration, something which is often unacceptable to the minorities. Third, the political parties may well be falling over each other in their efforts to reduce the number of foreign workers in the country, but it must be realised that Britain’s graduates are poorly equipped to deal with the demands of a globalised economy. As a former foreign student in England, I can testify to the fact that British students in general are far less interested in their studies than a Chinese or an Indian student.


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  1. Anonymous

    That’s just not right. Political parties are not falling over each other to reduce the amount of foreign workers. You should say that a few parties are actively providing solutions to deal with the problem of excessive and uncontrolled immigration, the negative effects of which are felt socially and most strongly in the most disadvanteaged urban areas. Secondly British graduates are not poorly equipped – how do you measure that? It is true to say that some foreign students who come to the UK to study are more motivated and determined with a stronger work ethic but that doesn’t make them better. You experience of students being less interested may be as a reult of British students actually playing hard and going out at night to ‘have fun’ as young people should. They do not work as hard it is true but then i don’t think that is any justification to say that they are less interested. Frankly that’s tosh.

    15 Feb 2007, 12:20

  2. 1. Why do British companies want foreign workers in the first place? Foreign workers who are hired as ‘highly skilled’ do not get paid any less than UK ones. It is the chronic shortage of skills in the domestic workforce. A recent CBI report complained about how the education system was not producing enough necessary skills.

    2. Didn’t you read the recent UNICEF report? Britain is the worst country for the youth, with poor education being a major factor.

    3. “Uncontrolled immigration”- that’s hardly true. Leaving the EU aside, all workers have to prove that their skills are irreplaceable in the UK. If more workers are coming from outside the EU, that means more skills are in shortage. As far as the EU is concerned, many British companies benefit from the cheap labour, expand and hire more British workers who are better skilled. And finally, the country that preaches free trade should practice it, shouldn’t it? A key to free trade is free movement of labour.

    4. Record number of jobs are being advertised in the country and yet foreign workers have to be hired. What does it tell you about the general level of skill in this country?

    15 Feb 2007, 13:30

  3. AT

    Uncontrolled immigration – “Leaving the EU aside, all workers have to prove that their skills are irreplaceable in the UK”

    You assume these people arrive legally.

    16 Feb 2007, 11:28

  4. Illegal immigration cannot be supported, but the solution is not to make the work permit regime more difficult. That will push more previously legitimate workers towards illegal routes. The way is to make Home Office’s own dismal monitoring system better. That is, however, NOT the line taken by political parties, who vouch for arbitrary quotas or limits on work permits being granted.

    Just something I forgot to mention in my previous post, a recent Bristol University study argues that ethnic minority and foreign students (apart from those from the Caribbean) perform significantly better than “home” students. Indians and Chinese perform exceptionally better. Does that not tell you anything about the skillsets available to employers in this country?

    16 Feb 2007, 12:42

  5. Anonymous

    The way to solve the immigration problem – and i think anyone who fails to recognise that it’s a problem has a screw loose – is to create a border police/petrol to guard the frontiers. At the moment responsibility is split and yes the Home Office is largely part of the issue. It isn’t about making people turn to criminal methods to get into Britain more about imposing controls. Without a border police it really doesn’t matter how many harsh new policies you bring in isuspect there would be little difference. Of course this is only one perspective but controlled immigration is highly desirable.

    You deviate from the point when you talk about British companies hiring foreign labour. Im not talking labour im talking students. Not all students will work for British companies and they still represent the minority of the workforce. I think you are correct to say there is a skills shortage nobody would claim otherwise but a ‘chronic’ shortage im not so sure about. Im all for hiring foreign workers if they are ‘better’ since it is the future of British companies at stake but there is still by no means any justification for such criticism of the quality of British graduates. When you talk about education then this is the state’s priority given the 94% educated in the state system – i believe it is an issue and i’d love to know how to resolve it.

    Ill leave the rest to your own judgment as you may be right from the students i have not met that Chines/Indian students are more interested but hey.

    27 Feb 2007, 14:17

  6. I am all for border police. The state is there to maintain the territorial integrity of the Westphalian nation state. My take on how to improve the education system is not so technocratic as fiddling with the exam system or the types of schools. Basically there has to be a shift in attitude, and it begins within the family unit. Children have to be taught by parents how seriously they should take their studies. This attitude needs to be reinforced by teachers. The system-fiddling will only be effective once this change takes place.

    My comments comparing Indian students to English ones is purely qualitative. I don’t claim to have studied every single student in Britain. I am just going by what I felt in 6 years as a foreign student in England, first in a private boarding school and then at Warwick.

    27 Feb 2007, 14:51

  7. Anonymous

    ‘Basically there has to be a shift in attitude, and it begins within the family unit’ – spot on here.

    Interesting point on education but how to get parents to change their attitudes? You’d have to develop a strategy to persuade them as forcing them would be too authoritarian.

    Like i said private boarding school 3-4% of the entire population of the UK attend. A wealth of experience enough to justify a sweeping judgements. Sometimes it is best not to talk about that of which one knows little or nothing to avoid the wrath of those who do know.

    27 Feb 2007, 19:17

  8. To an extent a shift is already underway because of the fear structural unemployment due to skill shortages. However, the perceived remedy is tampering with the system- more vocational training, etc. Parents could be rewarded with tax credits based on their children’s performance in school, upto the secondary level. When they enter university, they have their student loans as an incentive to do well and get a job after graduating.

    I am just floating an idea here- it is not something I definitely believe in. I do believe that the “forced to be free” argument has some merits on some occasions. Reviving the family in this country- by ensuring that couples stay faithfully in marriage, develop more cohesive family units for better upbringing of children, and teach their children valuable lessons of self-control and moderation- is one such argument. It can have a number of indirect benefits on crime, drugs, teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, etc.

    The quip at the end can be avoided. As I mentioned earlier, a number of recent studies including one done by Bristol University and the now-infamous UNICEF one show that in a lot of ways young people in Britain are performing poorly at schools and universities, and Asians in particular perform MUCH BETTER than their white counterparts.

    So I guess my experience has some value, doesn’t it?

    28 Feb 2007, 10:14

  9. The Blue Revolution

    Yeh good points. I know you are not British but you should consider working for the Tory party. You seem to have some good ideas – the kind that many people would support.

    28 Feb 2007, 16:57


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