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Higher Education

Volume 617: debated on Thursday 1 December 2016

11. What representations he has received from universities on priorities for his negotiations on the UK leaving the EU. (907601)

12. What plans he has to consult representatives of the higher education sector as part of his Department's preparations for the UK exiting the EU. (907602)

18. What plans he has to consult representatives of the higher education sector as part of his Department's preparations for the UK exiting the EU. (907608)

My ministerial colleagues and I have met a number of higher education institutions and groups, including Universities UK, the royal academies, the Russell Group and the Universities of Swansea, Reading, Ulster and Strathclyde. The sector strongly supports our ambition to create an environment in which the UK as a whole can continue to be a world leader in research, science and the tertiary education sector.

I thank the Minister for that answer. The University of the West of Scotland provides a high-quality and accessible education, and the university’s 112 staff from the EU are absolutely critical in delivering that. Can the Minister guarantee EU staff working across higher education and further education the right to remain without any visa conditions when the UK leaves the EU?

We value highly the contribution of EU and international researchers and academic staff. We remain fully open to scientists and researchers from across the EU, and we will always welcome those with the skills, drive and expertise to make our nation better still. Regarding those who are already in the UK, we have been clear that there has been no change to the rights and status of EU nationals in the UK as a result of the referendum.

In 2014-15, there were 43,000 EU staff in the UK higher education sector. Those people are making decisions now about their future. When will the Government give them certainty, and what is in the Government’s plan for Brexit to ensure that our universities can benefit from the contribution of those staff members once we have left the EU?

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer that I have just given. I think we have been very clear that we want to continue to attract the top talent and that we want the UK to remain a leader in research, which means attracting people from the EU and from around the wider world.

The Erasmus exchange programme has enabled 200,000 UK students and 20,000 staff to spend time abroad. That enhances their employability, improves their knowledge and promotes understanding between cultures. What is the plan to ensure that that kind of valuable exchange can continue in future?

There is no change for those who are currently participating in, or about to start, Erasmus+. Erasmus+ offers a range of programmes to countries across Europe and beyond. Post-exit access to Erasmus+ will be a matter for the negotiations that will follow the triggering of article 50. The Erasmus+ programme has proved to be a valuable tool that helps organisations and citizens to achieve their potential through international education, training and collaborative opportunities. As part of our vision for the UK as a global nation, I am sure we will want to look at how such an approach can be perpetuated in the future.

The Secretary of State was absolutely right to say earlier that we only get one chance at this, so the Prime Minister is absolutely right to make sure that we have listened to all the representations, including those from universities, before invoking article 50. Does he agree that it is far preferable to have a full, hearty Brexit than a rushed, messy, unsatisfactory dog’s breakfast?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and it is important that we listen to and take on board the evidence from the university sector.