Alexander Ewing headed to Romania before freshers’ week

September and early October is the quietest (and most beautiful) time in Oxford. Perfect conditions for academics and PhD students to get work done before the freshers show up for their week of debauchery.

It is also prime conference season. In my field, September is the time for the American Political Science Association’s annual meat market. An ‘absolute must’ for hyperactive careerists.

But for my own mental health, I didn’t go this year. Thousands of sweaty job seekers in ill-fitting American suits are always a turn-off. Along with dozens of panels on quantitative method.

Instead I chose something more intellectual, and continental: the 18th annual International Conference of Conceptual History, taking place this year in Timisoara, Romania.

It is a lovely city, the birthplace of the 1989 revolution against Ceausescu, and full of wonderful Hapsburg-era architecture, some of it crumbling endearingly. Hurry before EU funding spruces it up too much.

I almost didn’t make it due to travel restrictions whilst the Home Office processed the Tier-4 visa renewal that I need as a North American. Luckily it went through – and in double quick time. Ta.

But nothing is guaranteed nowadays. For reasons beyond logic, the Government still insists on including international students in the immigration figures. (Refugees, too, but that is for another column).

We are a hunted species. There are roughly 216,000 people on Tier-4 visas in the year ending in June 2015, well down from the 320,000 in 2010. This is a worrying trend for universities in the UK, which on average rely on international fees – eye watering compared to the £9,000 cap on inside-EU students – for roughly one-eighth of their funding. In some universities it is as high at 20 percent.

At Imperial College, an overseas undergraduate pays £26,000 tuition per year. Many postgraduate courses, including many in STEM subjects, simply would not exist if it were not for international students.

Overall, we from afar contribute £10bn to the UK economy. Around £3.2bn of that is in university fees, and £3.5bn is off-campus spending to lucky landlords and high street shops. Economists calculate that international student spending supports 14,500 jobs in London alone.

All of this is under threat due to higher financial requirements, the scrapped post-study work visa scheme and niggling NHS surcharges, etc.

Fear not comrades. Seeing the obvious benefits of highly skilled migrants, other countries are heading in the opposite direction – Australia, Germany, Canada and the USA. Better funding and smartly administered work visa schemes aplenty.

Alas, the UK could even do with more political theorists interested in conceptual history. But perhaps it is better that I try my luck in Germany or Scandinavia.

If that fails, maybe I will go back to Romania. The beer is much cheaper there anyway.