15 Jun 2014
June 15, 2014

The new English cricket test

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Ed Smith is a super-talented former England cricketer who is now a writer. Tonight he tweeted a link to his latest New Statesman piece, as follows:

“Nigel Farage at Lord’s today to witness how immigration boosts a nation: Jordan and Ballance rescue English cricket http://www.newstatesman.com/lifestyle/2014/06/if-you-want-imagine-england-under-ukip-think-back-cricket-1980s … ” (you can follow the link to read the actual piece, which is very interesting).

I don’t know much about English cricket, but I had a hunch, so I quickly looked up Jordan and Ballance and discovered that they were both recruited to famous English public schools (Dulwich and Harrow respectively) as schoolboys living in developing nations. I then looked up all the members of the current England team facing Sri Lanka and found out that the majority attended private schools (which themselves make up 7% of school capacity in the UK).

So while it is possible to present Jordan and Ballance’s performance today as controverting Nigel Farage’s view of the world, it might be rather more on the money to question the desirability of super-rich English schools scouring the developing world for talent in order to pay children to migrate and feed a mainly privately-educated England team (having first done the honours of the school, of course).

Follow through on Smith’s logic: let’s recruit the cleverest children in developing nations, get them to leave their families and communities, attend rich schools in the UK and train as British doctors, engineers, lawyers, civil servants, what-have-you. Their talents will certainly benefit us, and into the bargain they’ll show Nigel Farage a thing or two about the economic benefits of education. So far so good.

But now move beyond this perhaps reductive analysis and reflect on the economic and cultural disbenefit. It is massive.

Here’s a world chart of how many doctors there are per thousand people in each country. You’ll notice that some developing world countries have hardly any. This isn’t because those states have no decent higher education institutions. Indeed, one of the wonders of Africa is that the continent is full of brilliant students and teachers in universities doing amazing work. However, if someone shows an aptitude for, in this case, medicine, they tend to move to where their prospects of pay and advancement are best. That’s mainly South Africa, but where possible it’s the UK and the US.

Now just apply that to Smith’s argument. What’s good for us is, in the case of doctors from the Congo (or, say, Zimbabwe), actually – literally –  death for others. It leaves a country of approximately 65 million people with a pitiful, disproportionately low number of much-needed doctors.

Nigel Farage’s platform is anti-Europe. Most of his anti-immigrant stuff is focussed upon white eastern Europeans. Obviously. This is confusing folk like Ed Smith, who otherwise seems very clever. Saying ‘Yay’ to immigration from Europe is simply accepting what we’ve signed up for – something that benefits all of us.  For the developing nations, it’s a double-edged sword and we really, really shouldn’t forget that.

We could have it both ways, though. Why not welcome all-comers, including from developing nations, while ensuring we also boost those nations’ human capital? For every £10,000 that rich private schools spend boosting their school teams (I mean, for God’s sake, their school teams?), they could spend the same amount sponsoring capable school kids in developing nations to attend local schools and universities, to stay with their families long enough to bring benefit to their own developing nations.

This story is an encapsulation of the complex difficulties surrounding certain kinds of immigration and aid in so many cases. It’s massively well-intentioned. It allows us to feel great. But – cui bono, as we say in Falkirk?