James Ashton: London needs to woo the students, too

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The Independent Online

All this talk about whether London will really reap much of an economic benefit from the Games makes me think back to a speech given as the Olympic flame arrived at City Hall.

There was little of note in the brief address from Muhtar Kent, the chief executive of Coca-Cola: a pledge to recycle bottles, the firm's long commitment to the Games movement – it was more or less predictable.

Then Mr Kent remarked that London will forever have a place in his heart. A glance at his CV confirms this long-held affection dates back to the time he studied administrative sciences in the capital at Cass Business School. Talk is cheap, especially when bosses are competing to flatter London's place in the world while it hosts the Games, but I think there is something in this. Attracting investment and jobs is all very well. There are plenty of reasons for overseas firms to come here: the time zone, language, (mostly) stable political regime. But having chief executives who have been educated in Britain can't harm our prospects when they are ensconced in the boardroom 30 years later.

Silicon Valley does this brilliantly to remain ahead of the pack. Its key defence from high-tech centres growing up in India and China is to lure the world's best students to Stanford and Berkeley universities and keep them there.

Our Government, which has been schizophrenic over visas and whether overseas visitors can stay or leave, has been far less clear.

The Olympics are giving the bosses of multinational firms a nice reminder of what London has to offer. All the better if they had been lured here far earlier in their careers.

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