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Universities UK/Universities Scotland

Volume 630: debated on Monday 6 November 2017

7. When she last met representatives from Universities UK and Universities Scotland; and what matters were discussed at those meetings. (901604)

I have regular contact with sector bodies such as Universities UK as part of our wider engagement with the sector. I met representatives of UUK in October and also in September, when I made a speech to its annual conference entitled “Embracing accountability and promoting value for money in Higher Education”.

Mr Speaker,

“Scotland is losing out in the recruitment of international students…because the UK has one of the least competitive policies on post-study work in the English-speaking world.”

That is a direct quotation from the website of Universities Scotland. Will the Minister work with the Home Office and the Scottish Government to ensure that Scottish universities can make stronger post-study work offers to international students?

There is no cap on the number of international students who can come to study in Scotland, or in any other part of the United Kingdom. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that there has been a 24% increase in the number of international students coming to study at Scottish institutions since 2009-2010.

Despite any increases that the Minister may cite, the diversity of those students has narrowed dramatically. Higher education depends on the ability to attract and retain talent from across the world. The Minister will be aware that since 1998, Canada’s provincial nominee scheme has operated successfully, allowing provinces to vary immigration policy to suit their own requirements. I understand that the UK Government are anti-immigration, but Scotland is not. Will the Minister tell Universities Scotland what discussions he is having with the Home Office about the reinstatement of the post-study work visa?

The Government have commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee to provide an assessment of the benefits of international students to the UK economy and our universities. As I said to the hon. Lady’s colleague, the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), Scottish institutions have experienced a 24% increase in the number of international students coming to study at them since 2009-10.

Of course, it is not just students who are having problems. Dr Jessamyn Fairfield is a physicist originally from New Mexico, but now lecturing in Galway. In August Dr Fairfield arrived in Cardiff to do a science show. Her parking pass and entry to the festival were considered payment in kind and she was denied entry to the UK. Similar cases have been documented involving academics attending conferences. Ironically, Dr Fairfield is back in the UK this week to receive a prize for scientific engagement. So what assurances can the Minister give to academics like Dr Fairfield, who is in Parliament today, that the UK remains open for conferences and academic events?

We want the UK to remain the go-to place for scientists, tech investors and researchers in the years to come post-Brexit. We have given many assurances to EU researchers around the continent that they are welcome in the UK. We want their contribution to continue, they are hugely valued, and we have every expectation that that is going to continue to be the case.

I wonder if the Minister told Universities UK how the Department was funding the Prime Minister’s announcements on student finance. Can he confirm that those will cost the Department £175 million in this spending review period, and can he guarantee that this will not be funded by yet more cuts to the rest of the education budget?

I ask the hon. Lady to wait for the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s Budget in a few days’ time, because all the details of the funding of those announcements will be set out then.