£11bn industry in need of protection

Cutting edge research. The Francis Crick Institute, London

University chiefs and staff, students and business will give evidence before a parliamentary committee on the impact of Brexit on higher education.

The chair of the Education Committee, Neil Carmichael MP, said there were fears that Britain’s withdrawal from the EU would have a negative impact on a sector which generates £11 billion a year in export earnings.

“Concerns range from being able to attract the brightest students from across Europe to making sure UK universities maintain their places among the world’s best,” he said last week.

“The Education Committee is keen to hear from university leaders, academics, students and others, as we examine the opportunities for higher education post-Brexit and consider what the Government’s priorities should be for the sector going into the negotiations with the EU.”

A Universities UK spokeswoman told Chief-Exec.com that UUK would submit written evidence to the inquiry and present oral evidence.

The UUK president, Dame Julia Goodfellow, has stressed the importance of universities and overseas students to national and local economies, saying they contribute nearly 3 per cent of UK GDP and generate more than 750,000 full-time jobs.

A spokesman for the Universities and Science Minister, Jo Johnson, directed queries to the new Department for Exiting the European Union.

The committee will look at the likely impact of the UK leaving the European Union on EU students studying in Britain – focussing predominantly on England – and what protections should be put in place for EU students and staff already in the UK.

It will also investigate how changes to freedom of movement rules may affect students and academics in English higher education institutions and how to ensure that UK universities remain competitive after the withdrawal of the UK from the EU.

What steps the Government should take to mitigate any possible risks and take advantage of any opportunities will also be investigated.

Science and research will not be part of the Education Committee’s inquiry. That is being investigated by the Science and Technology Committee.

The committee has already heard evidence of the difficulties being faced by UK science and research. Giving evidence before the committee less than three weeks after the Brexit referendum the chair of Research Councils UK, Philip Nelson, said there was already evidence of UK researchers being asked to leave consortia.

“We have not had evidence of cancellations, but I have heard multiple stories of some quite unpleasant things happening, with UK researchers being asked to leave consortia,” Professor Nelson told the committee.

“They are all anecdotal at this stage, but they are multiple. Probably six different vice-chancellors have told me different stories about different consortia that are taking negative attitudes to the inclusion of UK researchers.”

Professor Nelson gave evidence of one incident in Glasgow.

“They were trying to attract a top-class physicist who decided not to come because he felt that the funding for the particular field in which he was involved was no longer going to be there because of withdrawal from the European Union.”

Science Minister Jo Johnson told the same committee that the government had “been very clear that there should be no discrimination against UK institutions, soft or hard, and we have made representations to the European Commissioner for Science and Innovation, Carlos Moedas, and sought his reassurances, which he has provided in his own statements to that effect”.

Mr Johnson said the government was concerned by the anecdotal evidence presented by universities and had asked institutions to provide concrete evidence of EU researchers refusing to work with them.

“We have set up in the department a unit that is ready to receive such evidence. We have an email address to which any examples of that sort can be sent – research@bis.gsi.gov.uk. We welcome any hard evidence so that we can take appropriate steps.”


By Aban Contractor