Brexit: Impact on Universities and Scientific Research - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:41 pm on 3rd November 2016.

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Photo of Lord Lipsey Lord Lipsey Labour 1:41 pm, 3rd November 2016

My Lords, I chair the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in Greenwich. It is the nicest job I have ever had in my life. It is a very successful institution and recently received HEFCE’s seal of approval as a world-class teaching institution. We also recently achieved degree-awarding powers after a minute examination by the Privy Council. We are a very international place, because music is a very international discipline, with music teachers and students from around the world coming together to achieve the very best. Some 16% of our undergraduates come from the EU—to their benefit, ours and, most importantly, Britain’s. However, Brexit threatens us with a triple whammy. The first whammy is visa policy. Will this Government, desperate as they are to cut the headline numbers of immigrants to this country, impose restrictions on EU students? Universities have, of course, tried to get undergraduates excluded from immigration numbers and the public agree: only 25% consider undergraduates to be immigrants. However, there seems to be resistance, particularly from the Prime Minister. There is a danger, to put it no higher, that Ministers will think that cutting visas to end student immigration is a very easy way to obtain their immigration targets.

The second whammy is loans to students. EU students are eligible for loans from the Student Loans Company essentially on the same terms as British students. We are very grateful to the Government for extending this scheme for next year, 2017-18, but that is simply a breathing space. We need to guarantee that those loans will continue to be available in the future, as they have been in the past.

The third whammy is fees. An EU student pays the same as a domestic student at about £9,000 a year. International students pay the full cost of their courses: at an institution like mine, where there is a lot of one-to-one teaching, that is £15,000 to £20,000 a year. If EU students had to pay £15,000 or £20,000 a year rather than £9,000, would they still come? We do not know the elasticity of demand, so we cannot be sure, but I have a pretty clear instinct on this. They can go to similar institutions in other European countries—none of which is as good as mine, of course—at much lower cost, sometimes perhaps even nil cost. The idea that they will pay £15,000 or £20,000 a year, amounting to possibly more than £50,000 for a three-year course, especially when loans are not available to meet that sum, seems jolly unlikely. My real fear is that, if this development occurs, our entry from the EU will fall off a cliff.

It is by no means certain that any of this will happen. I know that Brexit means Brexit—whatever that sentence may mean—but it does not mean it is necessarily going to happen, given that the unexpected lurks in all sorts of corners of our national life. We hear today that the Government will have to come back to Parliament before invoking Article 50. If the British public turn against the previous decision, I am quite sure that, faced with the prospect of Mr Corbyn coming to power on a wave of pro-EU sentiment, the Government will change their mind about a second referendum. That is one possibility, although I do not rely on it. However, I hope to rely on the fact that the Government are entering a negotiation in which they have to take the predicament of the British university sector seriously, and not treat it, as I hear many Ministers are doing, as if it will all come right on the day or as if we do not need foreign students—a sort of xenophobic or one-island view of what higher education can do in the modern world. It is important, however, that decisions be taken soon before a generation of students in Europe decide that Britain will not welcome them and go elsewhere. That would impose devastating costs on my institution, other universities and the country we love.