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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:30 pm on 25th January 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Garden of Frognal Baroness Garden of Frognal Deputy Chairman of Committees 8:30 pm, 25th January 2017

My Lords, I add my support to what has already been said. Amendment 463 builds directly on the discussion that we had on the previous group.

Amendment 464 complements Amendment 490, which we have tabled and which will be discussed on Monday. Amendment 464 would ensure that members of staff from other countries were not in future subjected to more restrictive immigration controls or conditions than were in force on the day this Act was passed. Both amendments point to the concern that restrictions on freedom of movement following Brexit will have very serious consequences for universities—both for students and for academics. We have heard from the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Royall, and the noble Lord, Lord Patten, about the difficulties that academics currently face in planning their future, thinking ahead and considering what they will do about their families, with young academics in particular wondering where their future lies. Like a lot of people planning their lives, they want a bit of security.

Recently I spoke at a conference of modern foreign language academics, who were asked how many of them were EU citizens. There were about 80 people there and over half put up their hands. They were all wondering what the future held. Some were having difficulties becoming UK citizens. Even those who had lived all their lives in the country were being put through hoops. They had never lived anywhere else, but getting a British passport was suddenly proving to be incredibly difficult for them. They play an absolutely essential part in the provision of modern foreign languages in our universities. We heard earlier from the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, about the important role that they also play in engineering. However, I assure noble Lords that those working in modern languages departments are really concerned about how they are going to continue their provision if EU academics feel unwelcome.

Therefore, this is a personal issue for a lot of valuable and skilled people, some of whom are already facing—unbelievable though this is—incredible hate crime and racial discrimination from universities where they have previously been seen as valued contributors. Of course, if they go, some of our courses simply will not take place. We need these people—the students and the academics—and our university life will certainly be the poorer without them.

This proposed new clause would help to remedy the very unfortunate situation that we now find ourselves in, and I hope that we can move forward in making life better for the EU citizens who make our universities much better places.