London, May 4th, 2020
British Prime Minister Theresa May resigned her office today after a series of revelations that she had been in the pay of a foreign power since 2009. Though both parties continue to deny the specifics of the story, a series of leaks from Universities Canada in the Canadian capital of Ottawa made it clear that the British politician had been receiving payments from this country’s universities for over a decade.
One Canadian higher education expert said he was not surprised by the revelations. Said Toronto-based consultant Alex Usher, “It’s been evident for years that Theresa May was acting contrary to UK national interests, devising and implementing catastrophic immigration policies which resulted in tens of thousands of international students choosing Canadian schools instead of British ones. It’s worth billions to Canadian universities. Now we know why.”
Former Universities Canada staff, speaking under condition of anonymity, pinpointed the start of the operation in late 2009. Shortly after the financial crisis of late 2008, Canadian universities became alarmed at the pressure the economic slump was likely to put on provincial education budgets. Rather than try to put a lid on their own spending, most preferred to find new sources of revenue in order to keep spending high. That new source was international students.
“It was kind of a no-brainer” said one source familiar with Universities Canada’s operations, on condition of anonymity. “University Presidents could go head to head with Deans who wanted new facilities and faculty unions who wanted new hires and job security, or they could go enrol another couple of hundred students from India or the Middle East. Which would you do?”
The problem, according to recently-obtained documents from Universities Canada, was competition. Canadian institutions were nowhere near as accomplished at international recruitment as UK universities, and in the summer of 2009 the Canadian government had blindsided the sector by de-funding the Canadian Education Centre Network. The question was how to overcome the competition.
Normally, Canadian attention would have focussed on Australia, traditionally the most aggressive international student recruiter. But earlier that year news broke in Australia about racist attacks on Indian students in Melbourne. That was potentially a boost for Canada as a destination, but there were fears that UK institutions might scoop up all these students instead. That’s when a plan was hatched to undermine the UK as an international student demonstration.
“The pieces all just fell into place,” said the source. “Universities Canada had a new President (Paul Davidson) who wanted to try new approaches to public policy. And you had the Brown government in London that was self-destructing, likely to be replaced by a ridiculously inexperienced government led by David Cameron. Subversion seemed like the obvious way to go.”
Universities’ Canada initial scouting on the Tories led them to believe that May was the likeliest choice for Home Office minister under a new Conservative government. “Immigration and security were clearly going to be important files for the Conservatives to shore up their right flank and they needed a steady hand at the tiller. Osborne was clearly going to be Chancellor, Hague was a shoo-in for Foreign Secretary, whilst Gove and Duncan-Smith had pet interests in other areas. Basically, that left May.”
Though details on the meetings remain vague, at some point Universities Canada approached May and offered a deal: substantial sums of cash in return for adopting policies guaranteed to undermine the UK as an international student destination.
“We didn’t need to encourage her to take anti-migration positions,” said the anonymous source “because that was already baked into the Tory manifesto. All we asked her to do was implement it in the stupidest way possible, by including students in the net migration targets. We thought it might be an outlandish ask; turned out she loved the idea and implemented it beyond our wildest dreams.”
Canada saw results quickly. After the Tories took power in the UK 2010, Canada saw its international student numbers rise quickly. And, as predicted, the money from these students allowed Canadian institutions to keep spending even as provincial governments limited domestic tuition increases and allowed core funding to erode.
Not all of the success was planned, though.
“We didn’t see Brexit coming” said the Universities Canada source. “And nor, obviously, did we suspect that the subsequent Conservative leadership race would end up being the comedy festival that it was, or that May would stay in power so long. But what was really gratifying was that May continued her pro-Canada policies even after becoming Prime Minister, thus providing Canadian universities with billions in extra cash and obviating the need for any restructuring at all.
“Agent May was the most brilliant investment Canadian universities ever made,” said Usher. “Without her the last decade would have been a lot more painful. Now that she’s gone and her policies discredited, things are going to get much tougher for us”.