Let me be the first to congratulate Sarah Olney on her maiden speech, particularly on the generous tribute she paid to her predecessor and on the very real knowledge she brings to this debate from her professional background. She clearly feels passionately about this issue and the wider implications, and I look forward to hearing further contributions from her. She referred to the Brexit vote as “deeply divisive”, leaving us as a country divided. I would gently suggest that for some of us it seemed before the vote that we were becoming a divided country. Now that those people who found themselves so many times on the wrong side of the divide have spoken out, the hope is that we might find a way forward that eventually suits everybody.
I am proud to be the representative of the largest student body of any constituency in the country, with the University of Kent, Christ Church University and one of the campuses of the University for the Creative Arts in my constituency, amounting to more than 20,000 students.
In answer to some of the earlier points raised about visas, it seems to me that there is a clear middle way to follow. It is essential that top-quality academics have access to visas to come here, and indeed that those who are already here from the EU should feel completely secure in their jobs. I am with those who have already spoken out on that point, but I see nothing inconsistent in also believing that a sensible immigration policy, which is what the country wants, must include clamping down on abuses of the student route. The fact that we have closed 800 phony colleges is an important part of that.
I especially welcome what the Minister said about accepting Sir Paul Nurse’s recommendations. I am a strong supporter of the need for an industrial strategy. For too many generations, this country provided the cutting edge of research only to see it exploited by successful organisations outside this country. We need an industrial strategy and a focused research policy in order to ensure that we get the best response to our very successful university research programmes.
The University of Kent has facilities in Brussels, Paris, Athens and Rome, and calls itself the European university. I am delighted to say that a withdrawal from the structures of the EU should certainly not mean a withdrawal from Europe. There is not time to list the university’s successes in the space world, but just in the past month on the medical side another grant from Horizon 2020 for a research network addressing biometric solutions to the use of mobile devices led to a successful bid for a £2 million grant for the Relate programme designed to step-change how nature underpins human wellbeing.
Like my right hon. Friend Mr Lilley, I see nothing to be afraid of in breaking out into the world. The Times league of international universities puts 24 out of the top 25 in the English-speaking world, including five British ones. Intriguingly, the only exception is the formidable ETH Zürich, and Switzerland, like most English-speaking countries, has a structure in which universities are free-standing institutions, which is sadly not really the case in most continental countries, where universities are much closer to the Government Departments.
Although there may be a short-term concern, which we have heard expressed several times by Opposition speakers, that we might somehow lose out on collaborative ventures—even though we are putting in the money to compensate—on account of attitudes from the other side that are not in their best interests, the fact that we have so much excellence will, I firmly believe, win through.
We have another advantage that is particularly relevant to medical research. When we are dealing with America, which has the largest concentration of excellence in the world, we have a massive advantage, because we do not have the third party of the insurance companies constantly creating a drag on research. If patients want to be part of an experimental programme to access an experimental drug, perhaps as their last chance to stay alive, they can sign up for it in a way they cannot in America without permission from their insurance companies. That is why, for example, our first 14 experimental cancer medicine centres are attracting so much interest from American pharmaceutical companies.
I end by saying how very strongly I support the bid from Canterbury Christ Church University and the University of Kent to create a group of healthcare centres of excellence, with a view to establishing in the long run a medical school in Kent. We are the largest area in the country without its own medical school. The inspirational leadership of Dr Abdol Tavabie would make sure that the medical school addressed the very buzz words that we keep hearing we need to fix in the NHS. It is no good talking about things such as ending silos, transferring things from secondary to primary care and closer links between social and NHS care, which people have been talking about for 30 years, unless we hardwire them into medical training, together with feedback mechanisms to make sure that people are brought up to date on new skills automatically—they need to be programmed into the lecturers, Those are just some of the ideas that this incredibly innovative programme leader is pushing for in the new medical school.
I am about to run out of time. It is a sad fact that of the thousands of university students, including my own son who is a medical student, who come through our hospitals, relatively few of them stay. That is because areas do not have a medical school of their own backing them up. I end by recommending to the Minister that we do something about that.