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Higher Education

Volume 617: debated on Monday 14 November 2016

8. What priorities her Department has identified for higher education in the negotiations on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. (907228)

The Government are fully committed to ensuring that our universities get the best possible deal from the negotiations with the EU. We recognise the key issues for the sector as being the ability to recruit EU students, the student financial support to which they have access, EU programmes and funding streams and the status of UK students studying abroad. The future arrangements on all those issues will have to be considered as part of the wider discussions about our future relationship with the EU.

As the Minister knows, the higher education sector contributes a massive £73 billion to the UK economy, including £11 billion of export earnings, yet the Department for Education has no representation on the EU Exit and Trade Committee or Sub-Committee. What reassurances can he give the House that the priorities for the sector, such as growing the number of students and sustaining research funding, are being identified and protected in the Brexit negotiations?

The Department has moved rapidly to provide significant reassurances to the sector in a number of respects, particularly on the continuity of the funding arrangements for Horizon 2020 resources. The Treasury will make up the continuing obligations on payments that fall due after we have left the EU. We have made it clear that EU students will be able to access our loan book and home fee status for the duration of their course of study if they start in the 2016-17 or 2017-18 academic year.

Some 15% of Scottish academics in higher education institutions are EU nationals. That rises to 25% in institutions such as Edinburgh University. Some universities already report having lost advance staff who were due to come from Europe. Will the Minister speak to the Home Secretary and try to get a guarantee of rights for EU staff before we lose any more talent?

We fully value the contribution that EU staff make to the success of UK institutions. The higher education sector has a long-established tradition of attracting brilliant academics and students at all stages of their careers, and we are working hard to ensure that that continues. The Prime Minister has given assurances that she has every expectation of being able to guarantee the status of such academics, provided that other countries reciprocate for British nationals in their countries.

The only way we will bring new jobs and industries to areas like the black country that have lost their traditional industries is if we have the skills that new modern and high-tech industries need. Will the Minister guarantee that the £50 million from the EU that is currently spent on skills in institutions such as Wolverhampton University and other organisations in the black country will be maintained after we leave? Will he use the rest of the money that we currently contribute to the EU to get behind brilliant institutions such as Dudley’s new institute of technology and to ensure that we have university campuses in areas like Dudley that do not have them at the moment?

As I said in my earlier answer, the relationship we have with the EU will be the subject of a broad discussion, and among the important issues at stake in that will be the future of our access to funding streams that have been of value to institutions such as those the hon. Gentleman mentions.