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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 Patten of Barnes Lord Patten of Barnes Conservative 8:15 pm, 25th January 2017

Obviously these amendments are relevant to the debate we have just had, and I do not want to speak at length, but I endorse everything that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has said. I want to pick up just two points, one of which was made by the noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Rees, earlier. It is the huge importance of international students, international academics and postgraduates to the quality of our universities.

The university I know best recently came top of the league tables for universities. We were pleased about that—and of course we believed the methodology wholeheartedly. In previous years, when we did not believe the methodology quite so enthusiastically, we had come second to Caltech. There are more American students at Oxford than at Caltech. Our great universities would not be able to do the spectacular research they do without the academic staff from other countries, without postgraduates in particular, and we are delighted to have so many students from other countries.

The points that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, made are really important to the quality and the vitality of our universities, and that is where Brexit is decidedly relevant. Some people say that we have been ridiculously emotional about the impact of Brexit on our universities. You try talking to an academic from Europe or elsewhere at the university I know best and tell him or her that they are really not citizens of the world or that citizens of the world are second class because they do not really understand where they have come from.

Brexit sent a chill through our universities. We were talking about perception earlier. It is really important to give people the confidence that we are not going to change the rules about students and academics coming here during the discussions on Brexit in the years ahead. It is really vital to the quality of our universities. If Ministers do not understand that in the months and years ahead then we will all be in very big trouble. I think at the moment we are probably underestimating the impact of Brexit on our universities. It is not particularly the money—although that matters. It is not just the research collaboration—although that matters hugely. It is the people. It is whether we are able to attract the postgraduates and undergraduates to our universities because they are an enormously important part of our higher education system and have been ever since the 13th century.