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Higher Education and Research Bill - Committee (6th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:15 pm on 25th January 2017.

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Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench 8:15 pm, 25th January 2017

My Lords, the two amendments in this group, Amendments 463 and 464, are separate from, but to some extent linked with, Amendment 462, which we have just finished discussing, on the public policy treatment of students and whether they should be treated as economic migrants. These two amendments are quite specifically related to the way that students are treated in the context of Immigration Rules, either existing ones or new ones which may be introduced. When the Minister replied to the previous amendment he frequently used the words “the Government have no plans” to do this, that and the other. Unfortunately we have been told that quite frequently and then suddenly another one comes along, or, perhaps like buses, several come along.

These amendments are particularly relevant in the context of the Brexit debate because the Prime Minister made clear in her Lancaster House speech that there are going to be new controls on migration. That is what she said. That is why she junked the single market. That is why we are in a lot of trouble. It is not imaginary. The amendments do not attempt to roll back the, in my view, rather excessive requirements already placed on overseas students from outside the EU and perhaps about to be placed on EU students. My hope would have been that we could have rolled them back. We do ourselves no good at all by making it difficult for students to move into our labour market after they have qualified at the end of their studies. Most experience in countries where it is made easier to do that is that they benefit the economy. But I am not trying to change that. These amendments merely seek to ensure that immigration law does not place new obstacles in the way of students and academics.

It is very important that there are two provisions here. Amendment 463 applies to undergraduate and postgraduate students; and Amendment 464, which obviously had to be worded slightly differently, applies to academics. The hope is that we could freeze the situation as it is now and not move in a more damaging direction for either of those categories. The way the amendments are drafted does not, for example, refer to an EU citizen who comes here to look for a place at university or to look for a job as a member of academic staff. They fit perfectly well within the sort of work-permit approach that may well emerge as the Government’s policy in this matter. I think there cannot be many people who try to come to university here or try to get a job at university here who have not had an offer before they come. That is how the system works. The proposals in these two amendments are Brexit related, but they will require offers to be made of either employment or a place at university.

To give noble Lords some idea of how significant these categories of students and academics are to the prosperity and functioning of our universities: EU-origin academics currently number 31,635. That is 16% of the total—quite a substantial amount. Non-EU academics number 23,360 and make up 12% of the total. In total the academics from overseas are 28% of our university staff. Undergraduates from the EU make up 5% of the total and overall international undergraduates, 13%. Postgraduates from the EU make up 9% with the overall international total being 38%.

As was noted in the previous debate, students make a positive contribution to our universities and to the country as whole. I beg to move.