Exiting the EU: Higher Education — [Geraint Davies in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 23rd November 2016.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Crime and Prevention) 9:30 am, 23rd November 2016

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the effect of exiting the EU on higher education.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. My delight at securing this debate is slightly tempered with disappointment, because I originally submitted it to the Brexit Department but it was passed over to the Department for Education. Much as I like and respect the Universities Minister, especially since he campaigned on the same side as most of my hon. Friends and me in the EU referendum, I wish that the people responsible for this mess were answering these questions. But never mind; we are where we are.

For a matter of such crucial importance, the future of universities barely featured in the debates before 23 June; it was completely absent from the notorious leaflet, it was not on the side of any bus and it was not in any of the TV debates. However, it seems that some catching up is under way. The other day I opened my alumni magazine from its polythene wrap to find a long essay about it from the vice-chancellor of Cambridge University —or should I say a long lament? A Prime Minister’s question and a parliamentary question were asked on the subject last week, and I recently turned on the TV and found that the House of Lords was debating it. In her answer to the PMQ, the Prime Minister affirmed the need to continue to attract the brightest and best, but I am afraid that many in the sector fear that the opposite could happen because of the decision to leave. The damage must be limited now.

Brexit in general raises all sorts of questions of uncertainty and unpredictability, from macro stuff, such as the freedom of movement and the single market, to micro issues that people can get their heads around, such as the size of a Toblerone or the price of Marmite. Universities too have macro and micro issues, all refracted through the academic prism; this debate is almost a microcosm of all such debates. I will raise some of those issues before seeking some assurances and listing some asks of the Minister.

In the Times Higher Education’s ranking of 800 universities according to a range of indicators, UK institutions were three of the top 10. We should all be proud of that, but it is now imperilled. I see a parallel with how the leave campaigners kept saying “We are the fifth largest economy; we’ll be okay”, but now, soon afterwards, it looks as if we are slipping down to sixth place. Most of the rest of those 10 universities are in the United States, so we should be under no illusions: our placing is a result of the all-important English language, but it is also buttressed by our access to European networks and by our intellectual climate. We need to do all we can to indemnify our universities now.

On macro issues, it is arguably the role of a university to be about global reach and collaboration. Many speakers in the Lords debate spoke about soft power. Other people like the phrase “bridges, not walls”—although the chief advocate for building literal walls has found that the reputation of his own university, Trump University, has not fared that well recently, given the court case that was settled on Friday. Leaving that aside, concrete examples of research projects that have benefited from EU funds include the hadron collider space research that captivated the world.

EU students on campuses have also benefited. I taught in universities for many years before I came to this place in May 2015, and I know that many of our courses are populated by EU students—particularly STEM subjects and business studies, which are less popular with home students. When I talk to my friends in the sector, they say that a lot of masters courses would completely collapse without those students. We need some assurances on the fee code that will apply to them; we know that there are assurances up to 2018-19, but what will happen after that?

We also know that the Treasury will underwrite research funds obtained while we are in the EU, but such research streams often go hand in hand with EU structural funds—I think Portsmouth has had a medical campus out of it. Structural funds related to EU funding fluctuate yearly but can be between £50 million and £100 million.

Photo of Andrew Smith Andrew Smith Labour, Oxford East

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Does she agree that universities and their research and spin-offs have a crucial role post-Brexit, but that to make the most of it they need to be assured that lost EU funding will be totally reinstated, that collaborative research with researchers and institutions in the EU will be enabled to continue and that restrictions on overseas students’ post-study opportunities must be relaxed?

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Crime and Prevention)

As always, my right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. He has anticipated my speech very well, because EU students and their migration totals are on my list of asks, which I am coming to.

The Prime Minister’s much quoted Downing Street speech advocated

“an economy that works for everyone”.

Universities are often the biggest employers in their cities. There are lots of figures on this; in 2014-15, 125,000 EU students generated some £4 billion for the UK economy, and there is off-campus spending as well. We must not ignore all that. We need to bust the myth that universities are merely insular communities up an ivory tower with their heads in a book and provide no wider public benefit. In addition, there is the £836 million of research funds—15% of the total. Universities provide good economic value.

Universities are also changing. My constituency is home to the University of West London, but also to a distance learning and blended learning institution, Arden University. People felt that there were already pressures on the sector, but Brexit is exacerbating everything.

As well as statistics, we should also consider a wider set of philosophies. In my alumni magazine, the vice-chancellor of Cambridge wrote that

“the University has a duty of leadership that it will not forsake…Our commitment to Europe…is…to a shared cultural and intellectual heritage”.

In the ’90s, as a twentysomething, I did a stint at Strasbourg II, one of Strasbourg’s many universities. I want others to have the same opportunities. After I finished my degrees, I worked as a university staffer; the Russell Group, where I was employed early in my career, has had to lay on hotlines to provide not only emotional counselling but legal help for its institutions to get indefinite leave to remain for academics who are completely traumatised by what has happened.

I know from friends in the research community that British researchers are already being snubbed for Horizon 2020 funding or are being told, “You can’t be the lead partner institution any more because you will be gone soon”, and we have not even left the EU yet.

Photo of Julian Sturdy Julian Sturdy Conservative, York Outer

The hon. Lady makes some valid arguments. I was on the other side of the Brexit campaign from her, but I know how important universities are. European research funding makes up 11% of the research budget for York University in my constituency. She has hit a key note. We really need to know whether Britain will be part of a wider collaboration with the EU and involved in the future beyond Horizon 2020, whatever it may be. We do not know what that future will be, but we need to make certain that UK universities play a leading role in it.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Crime and Prevention)

I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. There are many unknown unknowns in this debate. A former employer of mine, Professor Martin McQuillan from Kingston University, where I was last employed, has written an article about the post-1992 sector. York is a Russell Group university, as is Cambridge, and Manchester, where I used to work, but at the other end of the spectrum we have the new universities that John Major equalised—the ex-polys, which felt precariously perched anyway. In his article, he outlines some of the pressures—we discussed some of them on Report on the Higher Education and Research Bill on Monday—including rocketing class sizes without commensurate resource, reforms to the research excellent framework, and the new teaching excellence framework.

My old boss says that to some extent EU funding used to level the playing field, but if that is gone, it will tip things even more unequally towards the older universities. He highlights the shocking Higher Education Funding Council for England prediction that between 2015 and 2019, the funding gap between the best and worst-performing institutions will widen, with the spread running from plus 21.5%—some will be in surplus by that much—to the worst performing at minus 28.6%. That is quite a disparity, and it is set to grow; hardly an economy that works for all.

I would rather we had remained in the EU to shape the criteria. One of the arguments was that we might be like Norway, having to do all the same stuff but not making the decisions at the top table. But we are where we are. I shall now go through the list of asks, or—I do not know—demands; or should I be collegiate and friendly and call them the suggestions that we might like to build into a future strategy?

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Crime and Prevention)

Yes. Many academics, and not just them but the ancillary staff and all those other people, such as the technicians, are part of the 48%. If we are going to jump off a cliff, it is a good idea to have some idea of where we are going to land, preferably with a parachute to soften the descent.

Here come the assurances I am seeking. First, I urge the Government to heed the warning of MillionPlus, which is the pressure group for the post-1992 sector, equivalent to the Russell Group. It says that any moves to create a more “hostile environment” for EU or international students in order to drive down immigration is “problematic”, so we should remove students from the immigration targets. All the polling shows that people see them not as immigrants but as temporary stayers, and they are welcome here and valued by the population at large.

Secondly, we all do surgeries and we all deal with the Home Office. Home Office procedures and the vexatious visa requirements should be speeded up. The tier 2 visa threshold is now at £35,000; it was £18,000. I have spoken about it previously in relation to curry chefs, but the principle also applies to people such as lab technicians, who are highly skilled but who in universities might not be earning £35,000, which is quite high on the spinal scale. The threshold should therefore be looked at again.

Thirdly, I mentioned my experience with the Erasmus programme; access to Erasmus+ should be guaranteed for UK students. Even if it requires funding, the money should be found from somewhere, because we want to be a forward-thinking trading nation that keeps engaging with the world. Fourthly, we have had short-term assurances on Horizon 2020 and fees until 2018, but longer-term stability is needed for forward planning as we voyage into uncharted waters. The business model cannot continue as “business as usual”.

Fifthly, we are substantial net beneficiaries of our universities’ European dealings, so we somehow need to retain as much as possible in a new way, which is why I would like to see higher education represented at the top table in Brexit negotiations. I hope that the Minister will be there, given all his expertise and all the multifaceted aspects. Will we be like Norway, with access but no influence? Will we be a sort of pay-as-you-go country? Or will there be some third way that I have not thought of?

Sixthly, since this debate was announced I have received loads of suggestions from institutions all over the country —far wider than Ealing Central and Acton. My old union, the University and College Union, has produced a charter that urges the Government to enshrine human rights, and has also said that there should be an urgent inquiry. If that inquiry, or any other, goes ahead, it should consider campus hate crime. Anecdotally, we have heard of a worrying upsurge now that people feel disinhibited in voicing what was previously not politically correct, or was politically incorrect. We had already heard about Islamophobia and anti-Semitism rearing their ugly heads on campuses. The climate at a university should be that of a safe space for all, so all intolerance should be stamped on.

Seventhly, of all the different quotes I have seen in preparing for this debate, my favourite is this one, which I think the Minister may recognise:

“European research funding offers a good example of how the EU can get things right…EU countries are among our most crucial partners…Free movement of people makes it easier for our universities to attract the best talent.”

Those words were of course said by the Minister, Joseph Johnson. They are as true now as when he said them. I know that we have lost that argument, but we still need to do everything we can to ensure that the Prime Minister dispels all doubts that EU nationals in the UK, and their dependents, will ever be bargaining chips in some kind of negotiating game. The Minister must also set out robust reciprocal arrangements for our academics who go elsewhere.

I could go on. I have spent a lifetime in universities: from 1990, when I started my undergraduate degree, to May 2015. That is quite a long time, and I have never really got out—I am always in the Library upstairs. In my experience, Westminster Hall debates sometimes have meaningless responses from Ministers, but I am optimistic that this Minister, whom I like, trust and respect, will come up with something better for us today, and I am keen to hear the contributions from right hon. and hon. Members from both the Government and Opposition Benches.

We have had our fair share of bad news this year. I could go on and on listing so many international atrocities, the result the other week and the referendum result. Before all that there was our friend and colleague, Jo Cox, whom we lost in June; that is still very difficult for many of us to process. We have had so much bad news that I am hoping for some good news from the Minister when he responds.

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office/Europe), PC Westminster Leader 9:46 am, 23rd November 2016

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate Dr Huq on securing this debate. She should be more forthright in her demands of the Government; I give her some encouragement in that direction.

The terms of Brexit are clearly still to be decided. My priority, and that of my party, is to campaign for the least bad option for the Welsh economy. That includes getting the best possible outcome for higher education and putting in place every possible safety net to mitigate the potentially catastrophic effects of leaving the European Union in a hard-line way.

Photo of Andrew Smith Andrew Smith Labour, Oxford East

Has the hon. Gentleman had cause to reflect on why Wales voted so strongly to leave the European Union?

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office/Europe), PC Westminster Leader

The right hon. Gentleman asks a very interesting question, but given the shortness of time I shall not go too far in discussing it. The research that I and other respected academics in Wales have conducted shows that deprivation was an important factor. The constituency that received the most money from Europe—that of Nick Smith, who is not here today—voted most heavily to leave. It is something to do with deprivation and being left behind, but it is also, of course, much more complicated than that. I should say that my constituency voted 60:40 in favour of staying in.

Plaid Cymru has been united in its determination to maintain membership of the single market and the customs union, at least, because that would be by far the least damaging option for the Welsh economy—first, because of the wide-reaching benefits of being in the single market and customs union for Wales; and secondly, because it will enable Wales to qualify for the cross-border and transnational programmes and research and innovation funding from which our higher education sector derives such benefit.

Higher education is a major economic actor in Wales. It generates around £2.4 billion of Welsh gross value added and sustains almost 50,000 jobs. As for structural funding, I once worked at Bangor University, which alone has benefited from around £100 million of EU funding over the past 10 years. That investment supports jobs as well as capital projects. Swansea University’s campus on the bay was backed by £40 million of structural funds, plus a finance package worth £60 million from the European Investment Bank. These are huge sums of money. If we are to continue our success, the UK Government need to match the commitment of the EU to the principle of regional equalisation. That is why we call for a UK convergence strategy to replace EU funding, and on a needs basis.

I opposed, and still oppose, leaving the EU for many reasons: philosophical; historical; educational; the EU’s promotion of peace on our continent; and most importantly for me, at least, the EU’s cultural and linguistic diversity, and the normality of multilingualism, which is sadly not matched in this member state and certainly not in its Parliament.

Higher education has been a central feature of Welsh policy for many centuries. When we were last independent—a little matter of some six hundred years ago—there were three main planks of Government policy in Wales, one of which was the establishment of a university to join Padua and Oxford, which were already up and running. That ambition was not realised until the 19th century; it took us four or five hundred years to get our act together. Nevertheless, it is indicative of the importance that we place on higher education in Wales, and of the need to defend what we already have, that there are now seven higher education institutions in Wales.

I do not ignore the material benefit that we also derive from membership of the EU. It is no source of pride to me that we get convergence funding because our economy is on a par with some parts of the former communist states in eastern Europe. We get that money because we are a poor country with some extremely poor regions, one of which I represent. At least the EU has a policy of convergence funding for which Wales qualifies—alas—and our institutions derive great benefits from that funding.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that the UK is a net contributor to the EU, so that anything that comes back in regional funds is a loss. However, when we break the UK down into its regions and countries, only Northern Ireland and Cornwall are net beneficiaries. Will he accept that Wales loses out by the European funds in net terms, rather than gaining from them?

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office/Europe), PC Westminster Leader

I would be much more prepared to accept that argument if the Government here in London had a similar regional policy, so that when we leave the EU one could be guaranteed that the money that comes from Europe will come from London instead. When David Cameron was Prime Minister, I repeatedly asked him to guarantee that this funding would continue post-Brexit, but he refused to give such a guarantee. I doubt that it is in the power of the Minister today to make up for that failure, but I look to him for at least some reassuring indication that this issue is actually on the agenda.

I will refer very quickly to cross-border programmes. In the first year of the Horizon 2020 scheme from 2015 to 2016, Welsh university staff have already succeeded in securing £25 million of funding. Those programmes help Welsh students and institutions to compete on the world stage, which surely must be our ambition. Identified research funding to Wales suggests that Welsh institutions received some €183 million between 2002 and 2013, and it is estimated that Wales received at least €29 million from lifelong learning funds, including Erasmus, from 2007 to 2013. Those funds are vital to encourage joint working and collaboration between academics and students in different EU member states and further afield.

I will briefly refer to my own university of Bangor. There are 2,000 international students in Bangor; the total student population doubles the city’s population, so the university is vital to the local economy. Can the Minister assure me that the UK Government are giving due consideration to the disproportionate effects of post-Brexit immigration controls on small university towns or cities, of which Bangor is one? That is a particular issue. Bangor University also has widespread international links, which I referred to in the debate on higher education the other day, including a site in China, so we are worried and concerned. Moreover, Trinity College Dublin has a site in Bangor for Japanese students to learn English. It is an excellent institution, but I think the staff there are also worried.

To cut a much longer speech short, the HE sector in Wales is one of the keys to unlock the doorway to our prosperity—

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Substitute Member)

May I say that speakers have about nine minutes each, so you are okay?

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office/Europe), PC Westminster Leader

I will conclude, as I have reached the last page of my speech. As I was saying, the HE sector in Wales is one of the keys to unlock the doorway to prosperity. Both the UK Government and the Welsh Government have a duty to protect and advance the HE sector in Wales, and we will scrutinise the way in which they do so very closely indeed.

Photo of Liz McInnes Liz McInnes Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 9:55 am, 23rd November 2016

As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies.

I thank my hon. Friend Dr Huq for securing this important debate. I know this subject is very close to her heart, given her work as a university lecturer before her election to serve her constituents here in the House. This subject is also very close to my heart. As an NHS scientist before I came to this place, I worked in a field that thrived on collaboration and recognised no boundaries.

Our universities are rightly held in high esteem worldwide. We have 18 of the top 100 universities in the world, including four in the top eight. Globally, Britain represents only 0.9% of the world’s population, but we have 3.2% of global research and development expenditure and 4.1% of the world’s leading researchers, producing more than 15% of pioneering research papers.

It is well known that British science punches above its weight in the international university league tables and does so mainly thanks to EU grants. British science is not awash with funding; in fact, Britain has the lowest per capita spending on research of any G7 country. Sadly, Brexit and the Government’s handling of the referendum outcome have shown their inability to lead and to quash uncertainty over what Brexit will actually mean for the higher education sector. Brexit just adds more uncertainty, and uncertainty breeds insecurity.

There are two aspects of the human and intellectual cost of Brexit for universities. The first is the brain drain and the second is the potential restrictions on overseas research students. The brain drain is nothing new. Many senior figures in British universities remember the lack of support from the Thatcher Government in the 1980s and the exodus of scientists abroad. It is ironic that the four recent British Nobel prize-winners—Duncan Haldane, David Thouless, Michael Kosterlitz and Sir Fraser Stoddart—are all based in the US, having been forced out of Britain during the 1980s brain drain. British research scientists are worried that the Prime Minister’s mantra that “Brexit means Brexit” will lead to a lack of funding and grants for British science, and has the potential to create a modern-day brain drain.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Crime and Prevention)

I neglected to say something in my own speech. As a scientist, is my hon. Friend aware of the Science and Technology Committee’s report last week that says that the future of EU researchers and scientists in this country should be guaranteed, because otherwise we would imperil our science research base here?

Photo of Liz McInnes Liz McInnes Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, and yes I am. I was briefly a member of the Science and Technology Committee and I try to keep on top of the work that it produces. I fully support its call for EU funding to be replaced in some way by this Government, and I hope that we might get a response from the Minister today on that subject.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton

Is my hon. Friend aware of the previous Science and Technology Committee report that pointed out that the EU is inimical to UK science? The clinical trials directive has destroyed much research in this country; the EU’s ban on genetically modified food has destroyed much of the chemical-agricultural industry in this country; and the arbitrary sacking of the Commission’s scientific adviser was destructive to science. We have example after example of how the EU has damaged British science.

Photo of Liz McInnes Liz McInnes Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I am not aware of that report. I do not know when it was published. It certainly does not echo the views that I am expressing in my speech or the views of eminent vice-chancellors and scientists who work in the UK today. Perhaps if he can send me a copy of the report, I will look at it at a later date.

As well as the potential for a modern-day brain drain, we have the very real potential of UK universities becoming less attractive to international research students. Indeed, the vice-chancellors of LSE, King’s College London and Bristol have already voiced their fears for the recruitment of international students and how that will have serious financial and human resource consequences for our universities. The vice-chancellor of Cambridge University, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, is a stalwart remainer, but he recognises the result of the referendum and he wants Cambridge to get the best out of Brexit. He says that to achieve that, the Government must provide some basic clarity on what Brexit actually means. He asks for three things from the Government: clarity on the national status of university staff; a recognition of the collaborative ideal implicit in EU projects; and a Government guarantee of vital university budgets. I hope that his requests will be listened to and heeded by the Government.

Some people might regard the vice-chancellor of Cambridge as something of an expert, and although the people of this country were urged not to listen to experts during the referendum, it is vital that, on this subject and the many other areas affected by the Brexit negotiations, the Government take note of our finest minds and our experts. They are not asking for a running commentary, but for clarity and a coherent, informed plan as to the exact nature and manner of our departure from the EU.

The EU makes substantial financial contributions to research in UK universities. Research funding from the EU amounts to some £1 billion a year, while Britain’s national research budget, as I alluded to while discussing British science, is below international averages. The EU’s contribution to the income of UK universities has risen by more than 30% in the past five years. I represent a Greater Manchester constituency, and universities across our region have more than 4,000 EU students currently on their campuses. That equates to spending of £90 million a year—that is not just tuition fees, but expenditure in the local economy. Manchester University has received £48 million in research funding in the past two years alone. The loss of such substantial funding and a failure to attract EU students could not fail to have a detrimental effect on our area.

I have spoken about the economic positives and security of funding, but the academic, scientific and higher education sectors are not merely about money. Education at its core is about collaboration, common understanding and continual progress. Education has no boundaries and no borders, and science knows no country. We must decide where Britain’s place post-Brexit is going to be. I hope that it will be not in isolationism and introversion, but that the Government will set out a clear plan for diversity, collaboration and funding and for our universities to maintain their place and their standing in the world.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Substitute Member)

I have got five Members on the list to speak by half-past 10, so I ask them to keep their remarks down to just below five minutes. I invite Jim Shannon to give us an example of that.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Equality) 10:04 am, 23rd November 2016

I thank you, Mr Davies, for giving me the opportunity to speak on this issue. I also congratulate Dr Huq on setting out the case very well. It is no secret that I was very much in the leave camp. [Interruption.] I am surrounded by many people who have a different opinion, but I still look upon them as my friends and colleagues, and that will not change, no matter what happens. I am proud to speak on this matter, because it is of some interest to many of my constituents, and I want to bring a Northern Ireland perspective to the debate. These are important issues, as the Minister and shadow Minister know.

I attended a grammar school, where I did my O-levels, but at that time it was clear that I would not continue to university. My father had a shop and that is where my intentions were and where they ended up, at the beginning at least. I did not enjoy academia as much as I enjoyed the jingle of cash in my pocket. When there was a chance of getting a job and moving on, that is what I thought I should do. I have a high regard for all those who prioritised education and for those who knew they were called to those vocational jobs that are so essential to all. Society could not function without a broad spectrum of people with skills to fill the jobs that need to be done.

The hon. Lady indicated that we have dropped to sixth in the world. I would be happy if the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was in sixth place, because we would still be strong. Unemployment figures are decreasing. We have a good and strong economy. I have every confidence in Brexit and where we are going.

Photo of David Simpson David Simpson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Does my hon. Friend agree that while there is difficulty with unsureness about funding, there is a danger of talking ourselves into depression and sending out a negative message to students who want to come to the United Kingdom to learn? We will work together to resolve the issues, and I think that is the way forward.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Equality)

Quite clearly my hon. Friend, like me, sees the glass as half full. We believe in the future and we have confidence in the future, and we look forward to that. We know we can deliver.

I am beyond proud of the universities in Northern Ireland: Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University. We have tremendous courses that produce highly recognised degrees. I have met many politics students from Europe and the USA who made the choice to study in Northern Ireland because universities in the UK are so highly regarded. We have a legacy of high-class institutions in this country, and we must build upon and jealously guard that legacy. Queen’s University Belfast is made up of 32% international students. It is essential that our campuses retain the ability to access the international market. There are partnerships at Queen’s University and the University of Ulster with companies and students from overseas for new research into medicines.

There is no need for a knee-jerk reaction. The Government have made it clear that EU students applying to study from 2017 to 2018 will not only be eligible for the same funding and support as they are now, but their eligibility will continue throughout their course, even if the UK exits the European Union during that period. That is the Government’s commitment, so let us be clear where we are. We have time to consider the best way forward. We can all still be assured of that. The Minister in his response will reaffirm that position, and it is important that he does so.

We are all aware of the issues regarding visas for those who are not from the EU and who want to study here, and we must be aware of the statistics. Non-EU students contributed £3.5 billion in 2012-13, £3.9 billion in 2013-14 and £4.2 billion in 2014-15. It is clear from those stats that we are still able to attract international students without the benefits of EU membership, but I am certainly not saying that no thought should be given in the Brexit negotiations to reciprocal incentives that our former EU partners could avail themselves of in the short term. Let us ensure that we keep the co-operation with our EU partners that we have at the moment. The value and the importance of our EU and international students and their role in our economy should not be underestimated. Indeed, I believe that the Government are not underestimating them.

It is absolutely clear that we benefit from having universities that people from around the globe want to attend. In 2013-14, there were some 125,300 EU students at UK universities, and in that year £224 million was paid in fee loans to EU students on full-time courses in England. That was 3.7% of the total student loan bill. The higher education sector contributes a massive £73 billion to the UK economy, including £11 billion of export earnings. The latest available figures show that in 2011, EU and non-EU students in higher education contributed an estimated £9.7 billion to the UK economy through tuition fees and living expenditure. The publicly funded higher education sector currently receives 2% of its total income from the fees of EU students, with some individual institutions receiving higher levels of funding.

I will conclude, Mr Davies, because I am aware of the time restraints. International students want to study here; the universities want them to study here; and our Government are aware that in Brexit we must facilitate and foster this educational relationship in every way possible. The value of sharing educational findings and research grants is another issue that I know the Government are very aware of, and I know they have confidence in our ability to continue funding projects such as those that take place in Queen’s University in Belfast and at Ulster University, which have resulted in ground-breaking innovation. This must continue; I believe it will.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Housing) 10:09 am, 23rd November 2016

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I, too, want to start by thanking my hon. Friend Dr Huq for calling this extremely important debate. I think we would all agree that higher education and research must be at the forefront of the Government’s mind as they start to make preparations for leaving the EU. The HE sector has become so internationalised and collaborative that the UK’s leaving the European Union will hugely impact on how the sector will operate in future.

Let me say to Government Members that this debate is not about trying to talk down the higher education sector; it is about trying to highlight for the Minister the action that needs to be taken to protect this hugely important sector as we move forward.

As chair of the all-party group on universities, I met university vice-chancellors last month who shared with me their key concerns about higher education in the Brexit process. Their concerns centre around four core issues: student recruitment, staff recruitment and retention, research, and upholding the global profile of our universities, which will be especially important once we leave the EU. They want to see the importance of the sector recognised more by the Government in their negotiations. As I pointed out to the Minister earlier this week, the sector contributes a massive £73 billion to the UK economy and needs to be at the front of the Government’s negotiations.

As we have already heard, some of the world’s leading universities are found in Britain, and I am pleased that the UK is now the second most popular destination for international students. However, that position could fall if action is not taken by the Government, particularly given the period of uncertainty following the referendum result. We have already seen a decline in the number of EU students applying to study in British universities—for example, in medicine and dentistry at some of our leading institutions. Figures last month showed a 9% drop in the numbers of EU students applying for those sought after courses, so we need to do more not only to protect the 185,000 EU students currently studying in the UK, but to continue to attract them to this country. They amount to quite a large proportion of students in universities, varying from about 5% to about 25%. Overall, about 30% of our students are international.

The Government need to ensure that they do not send out the message that international and EU students are not welcome here. They need to radically and quickly reform the immigration visa system to ensure that the message is that international and EU students are welcome here. The same needs to happen for staff. About 28% of staff working in universities are from the EU. About 40% of new academic posts created since 2004 have gone to EU nationals. They are a really important resource in our universities. They drive forward research and are involved in international collaborations. Again, we need to hear more about that from the Minister—not only how the research they are involved in will be protected but what will happen to their immigration status. That is urgent and needs to be resolved immediately by the Government.

The Government also need to say more about research funding itself. This is not just about Horizon 2020—that is important and we need to hear from the Government that they will continue to support it. We know that about 22% of the research in this country is funded through European projects and European-led collaborations. Universities need certainty that they will be able to continue to be involved in collaborations and to drive forward research in this country.

I have two quick questions for the Minister. I do not doubt his commitment to the sector, but we have not seen it reflected across Government. I am not sure where universities are on the international trade agenda, and he needs to answer the question of why education is not represented on the Exiting the European Union Committee or sub-Committee.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Sport) 10:15 am, 23rd November 2016

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Mr Davies. I had already cut my speech, albeit not in anticipation of the time limits, but to try and get through it—my throat may stop me, but hopefully I will get to the end. I start by congratulating Dr Huq on securing today’s important debate. She is obviously well versed on the contribution that our universities make from her time lecturing at the University of Manchester and Kingston University. I very much enjoyed her contribution and the perspective that she brought to the debate today.

Shelby Foote once said:

“A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library.”

I suspect he was being a tad facetious, as the truth of the matter is that universities are so much more than books, the imparting of knowledge or certificates. Our universities are a cornerstone of the British economy. They provide stability in times of economic downturn, they give direction to young people searching for opportunities and they provide a second chance to mature students looking to better their lives for themselves and their children. I should probably declare an interest: my wife is one of those mature students looking to better our lives and the lives of our children.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Sport)

I should point out that she is not so mature—I appreciate that sedentary contribution from my friend Jim Shannon.

Students internationalise our communities and attempt to provide answers to some of life’s greatest unanswered questions, such as: how in the name of all that is holy can somebody like Donald Trump be elected President of the United States? It is in the acknowledgement of the overwhelmingly positive contribution that universities make to our economy and wider society that we should consider the effect that Brexit may have on our universities.

According to Professor Sir Timothy O’Shea, the principal of Edinburgh University, the potential impact of Brexit on HE

“ranges from bad, to awful, to catastrophic”.

Despite what the Government may sometimes suggest, people like Professor O’Shea are not political figures looking for an axe to grind. They are experts in the field whose views should be listened to and respected.

To compound the Brexit issues, the plan to prevent universities from recruiting international students—this would be based on an obscure and superficial quality mark decided by the Home Office—would be deeply damaging. All of Scotland’s 19 HE institutions reject the introduction of any restriction on their ability to recruit international students on the basis of a supposed differentiation in quality. All of Scotland’s universities are already routinely assessed by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education and routinely audited by the Home Office. When all is said and done, the Government seem to be saying that the institutions that do not receive the higher mark will be deemed not good enough for international students, but good enough for ours. Is that really the message the Government feel comfortable in sending out?

The University of the West of Scotland is going through an exciting period of growth. They ask their students and staff to dream, believe and achieve. Their global reach enabling plan is an ambitious plan to

“deliver an academic portfolio that provides...students with globally relevant skills, is internationally attractive and contributes to global reach.”

UWS is vital to Paisley and Renfrewshire. Some 15,500 students study there and 25% come from SIMD 20 postcodes—those ranked statistically under the Scottish index of multiple deprivation as the most deprived 20% in Scotland. UWS employs more than 1,500 people and helps to support 4,500 more. The Biggar Economics report noted

“UWS has [the] potential to significantly increase its economic and social impact in the future through the delivery of its Corporate Strategy, which will transform both the University and the communities that it serves.”

The principal of UWS, Professor Craig Mahoney, has explained that expanding the university’s international presence, increasing the international opportunities for domestic students and growing the number of international students on their campuses are key to achieving the vision set out in its strategy and realising the potential set out in the report.

The truth of the matter is that Brexit, combined with the anti-HE policies of the Government, seriously risks damaging the operations and future plans of all our universities. Universities across the UK generate more than £73 billion each year for the economy. Their position in our society, the direction they provide to students, the jobs they support, the research opportunities they deliver and their importance to our national economy means that the Government cannot afford to undermine the sector, which deserves answers to the many questions about the Government’s approach. We need clarity, before the Government permanently damages our HE sector. We are at grave risk of being perceived as an unwelcoming location that does not value the contribution of international students, colleagues and partnerships. I sincerely hope that the Minister can provide some reassurance to the HE sector today.

Photo of Ian Murray Ian Murray Labour, Edinburgh South 10:20 am, 23rd November 2016

It is a pleasure to serve for the first time under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Dr Huq for securing this debate. If the tactic of flattering the Minister brings answers, we are all going to have to start being slightly nicer to Government Ministers. I wait with bated breath to see if the tactic works.

This is an incredibly important debate. Most of the issues being discussed will be repetitive, because we all represent university cities and are concerned about the impact of Brexit on what is happening in our universities. It is not just Opposition politicians who are concerned—vice-chancellors, principals, students, student bodies, academic staff and those involved in research are constantly knocking on our doors at advice sessions. They are watching debates such as this one, and want their questions answered, not just for their own personal needs, such as their academic careers or their passion for higher education and research, but for the wider higher education sector and the economy. We should bear that in mind. I hope the Minister will tell the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union how important it is that he has a seat at the table to champion the cause of higher education in this debate.

In the short time available, I want to concentrate on Edinburgh University. It is in the heart of my constituency and epitomises the issues being discussed around the country, such as in Oxford, Cambridge or Loughborough, or in the west of Scotland, as we have just heard from Gavin Newlands.

Edinburgh University is unique. It is one of the world’s top universities and 25% of its academic staff are from the European Union. That is higher than the average of 21% for Russell Group universities or 15% for universities across the UK as a whole. Some 14% of all students at Edinburgh University are from the EU, almost 5,000 in the last academic year, which is double the average for Russell Group universities. The figure is only 5% for universities across the UK. Some 10% of Edinburgh University’s entire total research income of £226 million in 2015 came from EU sources, with the largest proportion going to research in the College of Science and Engineering, the driver of innovation for the future needs of our country and economy. Figures up to February 2016 ranked Edinburgh University as the most successful Scottish higher education institution for Horizon 2020 funding, ranking sixth across the EU, gaining nearly €60 million in funding to date.

I hope the Minister realises how concerned we all are about Brexit and its impact on not just EU nationals but research funding and, critically, collaboration. Some 30% of the entire output of research from Edinburgh University, one of the world’s key research institutions, is from EU collaboration, co-authoring with other EU nation states. Anecdotal evidence, and some factual evidence that we have heard from my hon. Friends this morning, tells us that universities in the UK are still involved in those collaborative projects, but they are being told not to take the lead, not necessarily because of their skills or what they can bring to those projects, but because of the uncertainty about the impact that leaving the European Union will have on the projects. The Government have to reflect on that point seriously. Having universities in this country that are at the cutting edge of technology, research and development but which are unable to take the lead in big co-authored projects across the European Union diminishes our ability to run other major projects in the future and diminishes our higher education and research sector. To put the 30% into context, the figure is only 18% for co-authoring with the United States; collaboration with the EU is almost double, and that is why it is incredibly important.

I will not rehearse the arguments that my colleagues have already made, but I will re-emphasise the points that we need addressed. We need to maintain UK university access to EU research programmes. We need to seek income, partnerships and influence and make sure that outputs are collaborative, with UK universities right at the top of those collaborations. We need to continue UK contribution and access to EU research infrastructure, such as CERN. We need to preserve research excellence across the university sector. We need EU nationals to be told that they can stay and continue to work here. We need to continue to make sure that free movement, both EU and non-EU, is prioritised for our university sector, so that it can attract the very best, very highly skilled researchers. We need early clarity over the rules that will apply to tuition fees at Scottish, UK and EU level, so that we can make sure that future funding for universities is secure. We need continued access to Erasmus schemes. That is what universities are telling us they want. The Government have to deliver.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Chair, Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee 10:26 am, 23rd November 2016

I congratulate Dr Huq on securing this debate. The issues that she raises, and the questions that universities are raising, are of course legitimate matters of concern, but the language that she used—“we are all jumping off a cliff without a parachute”—is the kind of negative language we should try to avoid. In my dealings with vice-chancellors —I represent Essex University in this Parliament, I am a graduate of Cambridge University and I deal with other universities; I am shortly to be appointed a visiting fellow of another university—I do not find universities are using this alarmist language. They want to make a success of the opportunities they have in the world.

It is important to understand the tremendous strength that our universities now have as a result of the progression towards fees and loans. They have been liberated from the constraints that Governments used to put upon them, have grown dramatically and are financially stronger than they have ever been in my lifetime. It is an extraordinarily good position to be in when approaching the present situation.

A lot of the uncertainty arises from confusion, which I have to say extends to Government Departments. I chair the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee; I see a lot of the civil service struggling to catch up with the absence of preparation for the outcome of the referendum, which is one of the lessons that we must take from it. It is unforgiveable for a Government to call a referendum and remain completely unprepared for one of the possible eventualities. There are many officials rapidly trying to get their brains around some difficult and complicated questions, in a scenario that they perhaps are not emotionally attracted to anyway. It is taking some time and the Government are entitled to take that time. I do not remember the Opposition parties telling the Government that they should prepare for Brexit when the referendum was called; I think they should be given the time that they need.

A lot of the uncertainty arises from confusion about what category the problems and concerns should be put in. Some concerns arise simply because of the uncertainty, and the Minister has already addressed some of those concerns. He could address some more and give more definition and assurance about funding streams, the status of students and academic staff joining universities at the moment, and so on.

Most of the debate is about what the Government’s policy will be after we leave the European Union—post-Brexit questions on issues of post-Brexit policy, such as what our immigration policy or our policy towards foreign students will be. There are relatively few issues that have to be included in the article 50 negotiations. In my discussions with universities, I advise them to try to categorise the issues and not to overload the article 50 negotiation process by trying to get everything resolved in that agreement. The less we put into that agreement, the more likely we are to get what we require.

There are three basic overall concerns. The first is about the access that foreign students—particularly EU students—have to the UK. It is interesting to note that only 5% of students in the UK are EU students. Some 10% are non-EU foreign students, who pay full fees, whereas EU students do not. It is actually going to be an advantage to the universities sector if we can charge EU students full fees. At the moment, the British taxpayer helps to fund those students. What is more, we are obliged to offer them loans, and the default rate among EU students is higher than that among UK students. There is talk in the Treasury about universities having to pay the cost of that default. We can resolve that issue by leaving the European Union.

The second concern is about access to EU funds. Table 9.9 of the Pink Book has become famous in the debate about leaving the European Union, but nobody disputes that we are one of the largest net contributors to the European Union. No Government in their right mind would use the pretext of leaving the European Union to cut the funds that universities receive, just because they get some of their money from the European Union. Let us remember that the money universities get from the European Union for research grants comes from us taxpayers. We put money into the European Union and we get only half of it back. We should be able to afford to pay more into our universities to fund more research and support our universities more effectively as a result of leaving the European Union, because we will no longer be forced to pay to subsidise universities elsewhere in the European Union. I acknowledge the concern that universities need certainty now and year on year into the future, but my hon. Friend the Minister should be able to give them a long-term assurance that we will fund research programmes in our universities as generously, if not more generously, in the future.

Finally, the idea that we are no longer going to collaborate with other universities in the EU is about as potty an idea as could be imagined. First, there are non-EU countries that participate in EU schemes. CERN, for example, is an international project. Let us have confidence in our universities. We have the crown jewels of scientific research in the EU in our universities. If I am correct, we have four universities in the world rankings top 10. We have 10 of the top 50 universities in the world—more than any other country outside the US. Two are in London—the same number as are in the entirety of the rest of the EU. It would be perverse if the EU wanted to cut itself off from UK universities, so we should approach the negotiations and future collaboration with universities with confidence. We have what it takes to promote successful collaboration with countries across the whole of Europe, whether they are in the EU or not. Outside the EU, our universities have as great a future, if not a greater future, than they would if we remained in the EU.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Substitute Member)

Talking of cuts, the Front Benchers have nine minutes each.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Public Services and Education) 10:33 am, 23rd November 2016

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate Dr Huq on securing this important debate.

I have been thinking about what the big asks are for higher education as we move towards Brexit. There are three things that are going to be affected by Brexit. The first is the collaborations that take place across Europe, which draw in not just funding but people and are extremely important for the quality of higher education in the UK. Hywel Williams talked about the concerns in the Welsh higher education sector about the threat to its EU funding as we move towards Brexit.

The hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods) highlighted the position of EU students. Both talked about the need to collaborate with EU partners to ensure we continue to attract EU students, and they raised the economic benefits that those students bring.

Of course, the EU also draws in funding. A recent Scottish Parliament report suggested that Scottish universities and institutions have received more than €200 million in Horizon 2020 funding, which has helped to fund research in disease prevention, improve our ability to tackle cyber-security issues and increase our understanding of climate change and how we can build a greener economy. That funding has been key for all those projects, so we need assurances about what will replace it in the future.

Ian Murray said that leading universities such as Edinburgh may find it difficult to lead collaborations. We need to be aware of the damage that will be done if universities that are currently leading collaborations are not able to continue to do that. My hon. Friend Gavin Newlands raised the issue of the University of the West of Scotland. It is currently in a period of expansion, but that could now be under threat.

Horizon 2020 is not an abstract research fund. It affects all our lives and helps us address challenges. Without EU membership, we will have very little influence over how that research funding is allocated in the future. I hope the Minister will be able to explain to universities what will happen in the event that they are not able to apply for Horizon 2020. I know that he knows that that fund has helped to support research work in higher education. What assurance can he give to the researchers whose research grants are being pulled because of Brexit? What certainty can he give to academics at the start of their careers, who are expected to collaborate internationally?

Secondly, given the reputational damage caused by Brexit, the lack of post-study work visas and the Higher Education and Research Bill, higher education in the UK is being viewed now internationally. Mr Jenkin mentioned the lack of preparation before the vote to leave the European Union and the uncertainty that caused for our universities. It is also causing uncertainty across the world, and we need to be aware of the difficulty that is causing for institutions.

Thirdly, there is the effect of Brexit on people. The hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton talked about the need to stamp out intolerance on our university campuses. I would widen that. We are in a dangerous worldwide situation at the moment, and we all need to be aware of the rise of the right wing. People feel that such views are legitimised by the recent election results.

Photo of Stuart Donaldson Stuart Donaldson Scottish National Party, West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine

My hon. Friend is making some excellent points. Does she agree that one benefit of being in the EU is Erasmus, which enables students from this country to go to other European countries to study and learn more about other European cultures? Given that xenophobia and the views that she spoke about are on the rise, cultural understanding is more important than ever.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Public Services and Education)

I agree completely. Going to university is not just about learning; it is also about diversity and experiencing different cultures. My son has just started at university, and one of the things he looked at when he chose his university was whether it participated in the Erasmus scheme, which is now under threat. He is not alone. Many young students thought they were signing up for something, but will potentially have it taken from them.

Sticking with people, the brain drain of the 1980s was considered by Liz McInnes. She suggested the potential for its repetition, which could be one of the most dangerous aspects of Brexit. We need to work hard to ensure that that does not happen.

The recent report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology was mentioned by the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton. The report called for the Government to make an immediate commitment to researchers already working in our universities—not a reciprocal agreement, not a “If you let ours stay, we’ll let yours stay”, because those people need certainty, and they need it now. The position of our universities worldwide is under threat if we do not get that right.

The biggest damage and the biggest threat to our higher education is the threat to freedom of movement. For Scottish universities, freedom of movement and talent is the most important aspect of being a member of the EU. I am sure that that is the case throughout the UK.

The existing visa restrictions and the removal of the post-study work visa have taken on new significance as we move towards Brexit. How will EU students be viewed? I do not share the opinion of the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex that we will be able to milk more money out of them by calling them international students. Unfortunately, the reality is that they will simply not come. Unless we get that right, we have a real big problem.

Talking about the EU, we have Irish students who come to study here as well. The Ireland Act 1949 states clearly that Ireland is “not a foreign country”. How will Irish students be considered as we move towards Brexit?

I have great respect for the Minister, so perhaps I should not be the one sitting here this morning to question him. What guarantees will he give to EU researchers already in our higher education institutions—what non-reciprocal guarantees? The greatest assurance is needed if we are to protect higher education in the UK.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union) 10:42 am, 23rd November 2016

It is a pleasure to wind up this debate for the Opposition with you in the Chair, Mr Davies.

I join others in congratulating my hon. Friend Dr Huq on securing the debate and for making a characteristically powerful and entertaining speech to set the context. She was right to highlight the absence of a Brexit Minister from the debate today, because that team is leading the negotiations. I join in the plaudits for the Minister who has joined the debate, and we are all reassured by his views on the issues, but we need to know that those views will be reflected in Government.

This is a hugely important debate about a vital sector, and I welcome the many contributions from all parts of the Opposition. It is disappointing—I am sure the Minister is disappointed—that so few Conservative Members are willing to speak up for our universities in such an important debate.

Our universities are a great British success story. Higher education exports are worth almost £11 billion. The wider value was highlighted by my hon. Friend Dr Blackman-Woods. Hundreds of thousands of jobs depend on universities’ success, and they provide the high-level skills that our economy needs. In a world in which our success as a country will be determined by our ability to innovate, the research capacity of our universities is central to economic growth, as my hon. Friend highlighted.

All of that is potentially at risk if the Government get Brexit wrong. What would getting it wrong look like? What are the risks? Let us start with students, who after all are the bread and butter of our universities. International students, as many have pointed out, are hugely important. About 185,000 of our 500,000 international students are from the EU. Their future is uncertain and, under the sort of regime that Mr Jenkin talked about, many are unlikely to come to the UK.

We are not talking only about EU students. In a survey taken before 23 June, one third of non-EU students said that they would find the UK a less attractive destination if we exited. The worst outcome, therefore, might be that we lose half our international students—billions of pounds and hundreds of thousands of jobs, not only in universities, but across sectors that serve students in communities throughout the country.

We might imagine that the Government would seek to mitigate such risks by setting out a clear strategy to maintain our position as a destination of choice for the world’s students, but sadly not. Instead, the Home Secretary has put international students at the centre of her plans to cut net migration, making a bad situation worse. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton was right to highlight that net migration point.

The question of staff was highlighted by my hon. Friend Ian Murray. Because our universities are so good, they attract great staff from all over the world: 28% of academics are non-UK citizens, with more than 15% from the EU. For key research staff the number is much higher, accounting for more than half in some STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—subjects. Those of us who represent universities have already heard stories about job offers refused and those here now questioning their future in the UK, because the Government will not give the assurance this House asked for in July on the position of EU nationals.

If we leave the EU with no deal on the future movement of workers, we will fall back on existing immigration rules, and for universities that will not work. Tens of thousands of early-career academics and researchers will not meet the tier 2 income threshold, creating a potential crisis for research and teaching.

Let us talk about research funding and the collaboration that goes with it, as my hon. Friend Liz McInnes did so ably. Because our universities are so good, we do disproportionately well from EU funding. EU programmes provide almost 15% of university research income, and with that money comes critical collaboration across countries and disciplines. All of that is at risk if research is not put centre stage in the Brexit negotiations.

What do we need from the Brexit negotiations? First, we need a plan. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex to say that civil servants are playing catch-up, but the problem is that Conservative Members and Ministers at the heart of Government seem unable to agree on what that plan should be. As they struggle with each other, in the policy vacuum the tail is increasingly wagging the dog, giving rise to increasing talk of hard Brexit.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton is right: this debate is a microcosm of a wider one on many issues. For universities, what would hard Brexit mean? Hard Brexit would mean losing students and staff, and cutting research—it would be a disaster. So we need reassurance from the Minister that the Government—not just him and his Department, but the Government—recognise the problem, and that they will put the continuing strength of our universities at the heart of the negotiations on exiting the European Union.

Among other key issues, we need clarity on fee levels and access to funding for EU students considering coming here until we leave the EU. As Jim Shannon pointed out, we have that for next year, but frankly that is not good enough. What about 2018-19? Will the assurance apply to postgraduate students as well as undergraduates? What about the future? Will the Minister confirm his views on the immigration status of existing and prospective EU students and their right to remain in the UK after graduation for work or postgraduate study? Will he support the benefits accruing to UK students from the Erasmus programme by confirming that the Government intend to seek continued participation in it?

On staff, will the Minister press for the earliest confirmation that EU nationals working in our universities will be able to stay for the indefinite future on existing terms without having to apply for leave to remain? Will he go further—this is crucial—and extend that right to those who join our universities in the pre-Brexit period until 2019, because that will be critical for the ability of our universities to continue to recruit? What representations is he making about future visa arrangements post-Brexit, so that our universities are in a position to continue to enjoy the benefits of securing the services of the most talented academics from the EU and the rest of the world?

On research, will the Minister give a clear commitment that the Government will prioritise research and innovation in their negotiations, with a view to ensuring continued UK participation in EU research programmes not just for the full duration of Horizon 2020, as he has assured us in the past, but in all its successor programmes? Will he outline, beyond the announcement that we expect from the Chancellor this afternoon, what plans the Government have to strengthen support for research and innovation more widely to mitigate the potential damage from leaving the European Union?

One vice-chancellor recently described to me the challenge that our universities face as “existential”. If the Government get this wrong, it will be a calamity for the sector. If it is a calamity for the sector, it will be a calamity for the economy and the country. So will the Minister, by addressing the points that my hon. Friends have made and the questions that I have put to him, explain just how the Government will avoid that potential disaster and ensure the continued success of our university sector?

Photo of Jo Johnson Jo Johnson Minister of State (Department for Education) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Minister of State (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Education) 10:51 am, 23rd November 2016

It is a pleasure to be here under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. Happily, it falls to me to congratulate Dr Huq on securing this debate. I am glad that it falls to me rather than a colleague in another Department, because this is an important issue on which I am happy to represent the entire Government’s position.

The debate is timely, because the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union and its possible effects on higher education affect all Members in the Chamber and institutions across the country. This matter is of great importance, and the Government are giving considerable thought to its management, as hon. Members would expect. Higher education is clearly one of our great national assets. Hon. Members who served on the Higher Education and Research Bill Committee will be aware of how keenly the Government feel about this question and how strongly we want to help the sector through these times so we can move to calmer waters and continue to strengthen what is undoubtedly a world-class system.

In global league tables, four UK universities are in the world’s top 10 and 18 are in the world’s top 100. Those universities are home to world-class teaching and research, and we want that to continue in the years ahead. I am sure that hon. Members will have welcomed the Prime Minister’s announcement at the CBI conference on Monday that the Government plan to commit an extra £2 billion a year by 2020 to support research activities across the country in our university system. I hope that hon. Members will acknowledge that that underscores this Government’s determination to put science and innovation at the forefront of the new industrial strategy. We promised that we would do that, and we are delivering on that. I hope that in his speech this afternoon, the Chancellor will provide further details that will give hon. Members even greater confidence that the Government are clearly putting their money where their mouth is—behind our universities.

Research and innovation are key drivers of this country’s global competitiveness and key sources of economic advantage for us. Our HE sector can be proud not only of UK science: the universities across our nations are also leaders in social sciences and the arts and humanities. But we are not complacent about our success. We recognise that the EU referendum has brought uncertainty for our universities and their students and staff, particularly the non-UK EU nationals among them. We have taken steps to mitigate that uncertainty where we can, be it in relation to the terms on which EU students can access finance or the terms on which we can underwrite research funding.

I will come back to those points shortly, but I want first to reflect on the UK’s knowledge landscape. As I said, our science system is one of the very best in the world. It is highly efficient, competitive and internationally successful. Among the G7 countries, we have stand-out impact rates; ours is perhaps the most productive science base when measured by papers or citations per unit of GDP. We punch well above our weight, and we want that to continue. We recognise that our universities’ world-class academic staff are central to that outperformance and our extraordinary bang per buck.

Photo of Andrew Smith Andrew Smith Labour, Oxford East

Is the Minister in a position to confirm reports that the Home Secretary is reviewing and revising her previously proposed limits on universities’ visa powers in relation to students who want to stay to work?

Photo of Jo Johnson Jo Johnson Minister of State (Department for Education) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Minister of State (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Education)

In her party conference speech, the Home Secretary announced that she was conducting a review and would be consulting on arrangements for non-European economic area migration, including the study route. The process leading up to that consultation is still under way.

Photo of Ian Murray Ian Murray Labour, Edinburgh South

What representations has the Minister made to the Home Office and the Prime Minister to try to win the argument that we should be taking students out of the immigration numbers to resolve all these issues?

Photo of Jo Johnson Jo Johnson Minister of State (Department for Education) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Minister of State (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Education)

It is important for hon. Members to recognise that we already have a strong offer. We are second in the world after only the US in terms of the number of international students who come to study in this country—according to Home Office figures, the number of students coming here has risen by 14% since 2010—and we continue to be successful in attracting international students. We should not create an impression that we have closed off as a country, because that is clearly not borne out by the facts. It is not borne out by the successful recruitment of many institutions in this country. I would not want to create an impression that we were closed, because we are not; we welcome international students and we want to continue to do so.

As I said, the quality of the staff at our institutions is central to the UK’s outperformance, and we want them to feel welcome and that the Government appreciate their contributions to our institutions. We want to give them the assurances that they need to feel confident that they can continue to embed the richness that they bring to our institutions.

We also derive benefits from EU students. Hon. Members have referred several times to the contribution that EU students make to our institutions’ health. We want those students to continue to study here. We are extraordinarily successful in that respect. In 2013, 20% of EU students who chose to study overseas chose the UK—the greatest proportion of any country. We also welcome those who choose to study for a short time under the Erasmus programme. Paul Blomfield asked what the Government’s plans were for future involvement with Erasmus. Post-exit access to Erasmus will be a matter for the negotiations that he knows will follow the triggering of article 50. We will work through the implications for future years as part of those wider negotiations.

I completely share the determination of the hon. Members for Ealing Central and Acton and for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan)—and I underscore the Government’s absolute determination—to show that we are welcoming and will not tolerate hate crimes of any sort in our universities or our country. Since the referendum, the Government have worked closely with the police to monitor hate crime and ensure that local forces have the necessary assistance and guidance to respond, and police forces are responding robustly to incidents. Ministers and officials have also met ambassadors and high commissioners from EU states and offered them reassurance and a single point of contact to raise concerns on behalf of their citizens.

In the remaining minute or so, I will skip forward to deal with the points that were raised about research, which is clearly of great importance. My hon. Friend Mr Jenkin and the hon. Member for Sheffield Central asked what relationship we will have with future Horizon 2020 programmes. The short answer is that it is too early to speculate about the UK’s future relationship with those programmes. There are already several models for co-operation by non-EU countries on research with the EU and EU member states, and there may be areas where the benefits of collaboration to both sides provide a case for ongoing co-operation. Again, that will be a matter for the negotiations about our future relationship. We are keenly aware that the matter is of great importance to the university sector, and it is fully represented in the thinking of the Cabinet Committee on Brexit, on which the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy sits.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).