A Tale of Two Countries: Scottish Independence and the Archaeology workforce

Posted on September 16, 2014

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A Tale of Two Countries

I laid out how many aspects of Archaeology and Heritage will not change with an independent Scotland in my last post. But, there are many issues that an Independent Scotland would be dramatically different than the current UK and no more so that the future makeup of their workforce.

An International, Diverse, and Highly Skilled Scotland

Several years ago Scotland petitioned for the creation of a post-study work visa for students who attended Scottish Universities. If you received a degree from Scottish University you could stay on to work for 2 more years without having to be sponsored. That meant you did not have to already have a job lined up right as you graduated if you wanted to stay on to work. This option was so popular that it was adopted across the UK in 2008.

That was until the Conservative government came into power in 2010. They eliminated that two year post-study work option and began a campaign to limit immigration. Unlike heritage laws, Scotland has no control over visas and immigration. I recently wrote about the difficulty in getting a job in UK archaeology – basically impossible at this current moment. An independent Scotland has promised to reinstate the post-study work visa and be much more … how should I say this… friendly. While part of this may be cultural and political leanings – Scotland is more liberal – the main reason is that Scotland is aging and its workforce is shrinking. Scotland needs immigrants to keep its workforce healthy i.e. pay the pensions of older native born Scots. For Scotland to have a healthy and productive economy it needs foreign workers. So for the foreseeable future Scotland will be very pro-immigrant.

Don’t get me wrong, the Scots are still human and have their own group of xenophobic jerks. Moreover, once the immigrant population increases there is always the chance that ‘loving thy neighbour’ will decrease. Especially, if your neighbour speaks a different language, looks different, and has a different culture. But, for now Scotland is pro-people, no matter where they come from.

The Nation That Defeated Hitler is Instituting some of his Policies.

The UK on the other hand is pursuing, almost with a religious seal, the exact opposite policy. For the first time ever the number of international students studying in the UK has dropped. Essentially, because of increased visa fees and immigration/visitor policy bent on reducing all numbers. Case in point, Universities have to conduct quarterly census of their students in which international students (excluding EU) are required to present themselves and their passport (because we can’t trust lecturers and professors to look after their own students) . In some cases, people are required to report weekly to the police station. When did the UK become a nation that required individuals to report to police stations because of where they were born and not because of anything they have done?

The UK Government is already creating a scheme to charge students several hundred pounds, possibly £1k? when getting a visa to pay for the NHS. Which sounds reasonable, paying for services used, except that students already pay £12-28k per year in University fees and equal amount in living costs. Essentially, every student injects £20,000+ into the UK economy every year they study. Easily enough to cover the services they use. It is estimated the foreigners only cost the NHS £30 million a year in England, or the equivalent of what 1500 students put into the UK economy. This short sighted behavior sums up the current UK policy towards anyone not born British, including commonwealth countries and America with its “special relationship”.

Why? For the love of Queen and Country, why?

Why is the UK pursing such, what seems to most reasonable people, a stupid policy of cutting down on people that bring £20k+ into the UK economy every year while using less resources? Politics. For those of you not in the UK a far right wing party, the UK Independence Party (UKIP), has done very well in the polls recently. They want the UK to leave the EU and reduce immigration to … well they want to reverse it. This party has forced the Conservative Party to implement far right policies to prevent UKIP from stealing their base. Unfortunately, they have promised the impossible, like reducing immigration to 10s of thousands when 100,000+ EU citizens move over every year (who have the right to move and can not be stopped). Instead of thinking logically about the process they have implemented popular political policies but which are poor economic ones.

It Will Only Get Worse, Possibly Even for EU Citizens

Because of this pressure from UKIP the Conservatives have promised a referendum on EU membership should they win the next election. In an ironic twist they don’t want Scotland to go free but want to voting on leaving the EU. If Scotland was to leave with its strong liberal voting record it would be very likely that the Conservatives would win the next election and thus have a referendum. It would also mean UKIP would most likely win that referendum and the UK would leave the EU (according to the polls). Now, Scotland has proved that polls can change dramatically but at the moment the UK is looking to take a very different path.

Leaving the UK would mean that EU citizens might not enjoy the same privileges they have now: ability to work in the UK without a visa, lower student fees, right to move, etc. On the other hand Scotland wants to join the EU and would keep these benefits in place during the transition. The UK would become distinctly unpleasant to anyone that was not born British or can not afford to buy citizenship for £10,000,000.

Hurting UK Archaeology Departments

For the last decade the number of students from outside the UK has doubled in Archaeology. They now make up about 16-17% of all Archaeology students, at least in the Humanities. Moreover, some of these students are a gold mine for University departments as they pay higher fees. Looking at the demographics of the UK we are starting to see future student cohorts that are smaller than the previous ones, 700,000 fewer for coming student cohort. Unless these numbers are made up from outside sources there will be fewer students. Fewer students means less academics to teach them and the shrinking of the number of University positions for archaeologists. Unless policies are reversed soon, departments are going to be facing falling enrolment and currently the UK government is not keen to increase research funding to help offset that loss in revenue. We will see fewer jobs for Archaeologists.

Hurting the UK Archaeology Workforce

Imagine someone spends 20+ years of their life being trained. Imagine they pass the best Universities and get a PhD. Even better another country pays for most of the teaching and the person personally pays for the last few years of teaching pumping £20,000 a year into the economy. Now imagine you can’t hire them. Your country, which has gotten 20+ years of education and health paid for by another country can not tap into their higher earnings potential. Turning away people who will make 2-3 times the national average and pay much higher taxes. How does that make any sort of business sense?

I know some people will probably think- well the job will go to a UK citizen instead. Fair enough, but very short sighted. GDP, and thus the economy, grows in two ways– through an increasing size of the workforce and through productivity. The latter being increased when it takes less time to do the same work. Productivity can only increase through innovation. Sure you can get 99 of 100 people to do the same job but when that 100th person does that same job better you increase the economy. Higher productivity leads to advancements — why we no longer hunt, gather, and die at 25. You need productivity to have a strong economy which in turn pays for roads, highways, the NHS, etc. Much harder to do when you eliminate highly trained individuals from the workforce. In the long term a less diverse workforce will be less productive and that will hurt archaeology.

What does the future hold?

If Scotland does go free than we are looking at two very different futures for archaeology in the UK and Scotland. One in which Universities attract large numbers of international students that pump thousands into the economy and support more Archaeologists. One, in which the best talent, regardless of where they were born works in Archaeology. Or one in which UKIP gets what they want.

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