Comment »Posted on Tuesday 4 November 2008 at 11:49 am by Jacob Aron
In Education

The Guardian is reporting that al-Qaeda terrorists have attempted to gain access to scientific laboratories in Britain by posing as postgraduate students in the hope of gaining access to the ingredients for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons

A Foreign Office spokesman said that these students have been denied access to UK institutions “to stop the spread of knowledge and skills that could be used in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery,” adding “There is empirical evidence of a problem with postgraduate students becoming weapons proliferators.”

This worries me. Of course, we must not let dangerous material fall in to the wrong hands, but international students add huge cultural value to a university – not to mention a big wad of cash, with the high fees they pay. If we start rejecting students left and right from “countries of concern” such as Iran and Pakistan, it will only be to our own detriment.

It could also work against security efforts. An enthusiastic science student who finds himself barred from entry into a British university because of – let’s face it – his nationality, might end up in institution in another country, still with access to dangerous materials, but additionally an animosity to the UK. Such a person might find themselves more open to radicalisation.

I’m not saying this has happened, or even will happen, but the UK government has a recent history of over-reacting to terrorism, and it isn’t far fetched to imagine them implementing a “better-safe-that-sorry” approach to international students. I don’t want this blog to get too political, but it’s certainly something to watch out for.


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