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  • Dr Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos

The Education Select Committee is right, UK higher education must be protected from Brexit effects

The Education Select Committee report on Brexit challenges for higher education, published on 25th April 2017, points in the right direction on the need to adopt a new immigration system that will resemble the existing 'freedom of movement' system as far as access to our Universities from the EU is concerned, ensure mobility of UK students across the EU and beyond (and mobility of EU students towards the UK), and prevent a potential 'brain drain' as a result of EU academic staff no longer finding the UK an appealing career destination.

The report urges the Government to provide guarantees to university staff from the EU currently in the UK and design a new immigration system that better meets the needs of higher education. Key recommendations include:

The uncertainty around the rights of EU citizens currently living in the UK needs to be clarified immediately.

The Government should resolve the issue of staff residency rights by unilaterally guaranteeing rights before the end of 2017.

The Government should remove overseas students from the net migration target.

An easier route than the Tier 2 (skilled worker) visa for academics from around the world should be introduced, with less bureaucracy.

The Government should retain a reciprocal open approach with light touch controls such as visa-free access for students from both inside and outside the EU.

Neil Carmichael MP, Chair of the Education Committee, commented:

Neil Carmichael MP, Chair of the Education Select Committee

A future administration should develop a bold cross-Government strategy to take advantage of the global reach of our universities and ensure that higher education plays an important role in upcoming trade deals with the rest of the world. If the next Government takes these steps, our university sector will be able to punch its weight and seize the local and global opportunities on offer as we leave the European Union.

Britain in Europe warmly welcomes the recommendations in this report. Our experts have repeatedly highlighted the risks for UK higher education in the adoption of strict immigration controls and alienating academic staff from the EU and beyond. Our report on Brexit: Opportunities, Challenges and the Road Ahead Brexit (pp. 36-41) warns that:

Brexit will result in enormous changes to the UK Higher Education landscape, resulting in both threats and opportunities to UK universities. Leaving the EU is likely to result in a reduction in the EU students who come to the UK, the effect of which will be dependent on the institution and subject area. Exchange schemes such as Erasmus may also be at threat. Universities rely on the free exchange of ideas, knowledge and people. They need to hold fast to their international nature, and maintain strong links with other universities around the world, helping the UK remain an outward looking and globally engaged nation.

BiE Brexit report (October 2016)

Our report also highlights (at pp. 92-95) the significant contributions made by many non-British-born academics and many EU nationals to UK higher education, taking as an illustration their contributions to what is often referred as the British liberal tradition of the international rule of law. The report argues that maintaining a liberalized, meritocratic and well-funded academic market is a pre-condition for the UK to remain an attractive place for those wishing to develop an academic career in the UK, noting that these elements are under threat by a hard Brexit.

The system put forward by the Education Select Committee ensures that UK Universities will remain internationally leading institutions, providing global excellence in research and student experience, and will continue to attract some of the best academics, and some of the most talented students, from across Europe and around the world.

In the same vein, our 'Immigration after Brexit' brief, published the same day as the Education Select Committee report, calls upon all political parties to put fair, evidence-backed immigration policies in their June 8 manifestos, and to steer clear from heavy-handed post Brexit promises. The report also notes that the Government should take this opportunity to fully recognise the rights of EU citizens from the EU-27 who are already in the UK:

BiE immigration after Brexit brief (April 2017)

As Britain in Europe has repeatedly argued, the Government’s intent to use the more than 3 million EU citizens living in the UK as pawns in the forthcoming negotiations, is in direct breach of human rights law, morality and common sense (see e.g. BiE’s letter in the Guardian and recent roundtable event at the British Academy). The June 8 election offers the Government the last opportunity to remedy, albeit belatedly, this entirely unacceptable situation.

The Education Select Committee report is therefore right to note that:

The future residency rights of EU citizens currently living in the UK remains to be clarified. The Committee’s report calls for this uncertainty over staff from the EU to be reduced immediately. The Committee calls on the Government to speedily resolve the issue of staff residency rights by unilaterally guaranteeing rights before the end of 2017 in the event of any delay on this matter.

Britain in Europe urges all political parties to pay particular attention to the recommendations made by the Education Select Committee, when finalising their higher education policies for the purposes of their June 8 manifestos.

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