Theresa May's plan to kick out foreign students would damage UK creativity

Lynda Relph-Knight is The Drum's consulting design editor and the former long-serving editor of Design Week. Follow Lynda on Twitter.

The education debate has taken an interesting twist this year with the intervention of vacuum cleaner king Sir James Dyson. It bodes well for a new discussion on the value of creative education as a generator for innovation and economic growth both in the UK and overseas. It could also serve to reinforce the UK’s standing as a centre for excellence in creative education on the world stage.

Sir James Dyson has blasted Theresa May's plan

Dyson spoke out in the weekend media against the call by home secretary Theresa May for the Tories to insist overseas students return home on completing their studies in the UK. May is urging her party to make it mandatory for them to reapply for a visa on graduation if they wish to remain here.

Dyson rightly points out that we need the talent we have nurtured to enhance our ideas and performance as a nation if we are to remain a serious global player. There should be no boundaries on ideas and creativity. In saying this, he echoes opinions already expressed by scientists and academics, but it is fitting that the creative sector should be brought into the fray by such a prominent global practitioner.

You have to consider where the UK might be had more creative graduates returned to their countries of origin, particularly those studying at post-graduate level. Would we have a thriving maker culture had arch proponent Daniel Charny returned to Israel after the Royal College of Art? Would Pentagram have maintained its reputation in 3D design had Daniel Weil returned to Buenos Aires after the RCA – where he became a professor of industrial design some ten years after graduation? What if experimental fashion designer Hussein Chalayan had returned to Cyprus? The list goes on.

The converse situation is typified by the Korean car industry, built over many years through the talents of native car designers returning from vehicle design courses, notably taught by the likes of Nigel Chapman and Miles Pennington at the RCA. What might have happened to the UK car industry had more of them stayed?

Whatever the politicians say, surely we have got beyond a point where the UK is for Brits alone? We certainly wouldn’t want to curb our homegrown talents and prevent them from learning and practicing their craft in the US, Europe or wherever in the world best fulfills their needs. So why should we shun overseas graduates – whose cash our colleges have happily taken by way of fees – when they can add to the quality of thinking and creating here?

The creative industries are global. It is increasingly irrelevant where someone was born or trained. It is about the particular skills, approach and cultural nuances a creative brings to the project, be it a car, a building or a piece of visual communication.

We should therefore celebrate the diversity of creative talents our colleges yield against the odds, wherever it originates from. The government meanwhile would be better served rethinking education provision for all students looking to pursue creative careers than seeing it purely as a commodity and limiting the activities of those who have literally bought into the system.

Lynda Relph-Knight is The Drum's consulting design editor. You can follow her on Twitter @RelphKnight

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