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Leaving the EU: Research and Staffing

Volume 635: debated on Monday 29 January 2018

1. What assessment he has made of the effect of the UK leaving the EU on future participation in EU research programmes and staffing levels in higher education. (903576)

10. What assessment he has made of the effect of the UK leaving the EU on future participation in EU research programmes and staffing levels in higher education. (903585)

We have agreed with the EU that we will continue to benefit from EU programmes until the end of the current budget plan. We have also reached an agreement on citizens’ rights, allowing EU citizens to continue to live here broadly as now, which helps to provide certainty to current staff.

The Secretary of State will be aware of the comments made by Professor Andrea Nolan when she told the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs that Brexit

“will have a significant impact on the HE sector, on the staffing profile, and on the student profile, in Scotland.”

Does the Secretary of State understand those concerns, and does he agree with the convener of Universities Scotland?

Of course people working in the university sector in Scotland, as throughout the United Kingdom, will be thinking about the future in what will be a time of some change, but it will remain the case that the United Kingdom, including Scotland, has an exceptionally strong message to give to the world on the strength of our institutions, on the attractiveness of coming here to study and on the attractiveness of partnering with our institutions on research.

Scotland’s universities have so far been awarded almost €400 million from Horizon 2020, an 11% share of all funding secured by UK institutions. The University of Dundee in my constituency, for example, has received €21 million from the scheme. Given the scheme’s huge importance, when will the Government tell universities how they plan to square the funding circle after the current Horizon 2020 programme finishes?

These are indeed important matters, and officials from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy have spoken to academics from Scottish universities—including, I think, from the University of Dundee—about the future. It is important that we have a guarantee until the end of the Horizon 2020 programme. Of course, what happens with future programmes will be a matter for us to agree with the other nations.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his new position. Has he had a chance to read the Social Market Foundation report, published today, on the problems of snobbery between higher education and technical education? Does he agree that universities need to do a lot more to embrace technical education students and degree apprenticeships and that financial incentives should go towards those universities that encourage degree apprenticeships and encourage students with BTECs into technical education?

I confess that I have not yet read this morning’s report, but I look forward to consuming it when I have the time to do so with proper attention. My right hon. Friend mentions something on which he has consistently campaigned throughout his time in Parliament, and it is so important that we do not have some sort of wall between the academic and the technical and vocational. Things such as degree apprenticeships are a great opportunity for more people to benefit from certain types of education and to make sure that we widen participation as much as possible.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in echoing the phrase used by the BBC and, despite Brexit, welcoming this year’s record number of international students in our university system?

My hon. Friend is correct that the United Kingdom remains an exceptionally attractive destination for international students. As he says, the number of non-EU international students is at a record high, and of course we want that to continue.

What conversations has the Secretary of State had with the Home Secretary on the contribution made by international students and staff to our British universities and about their classification in immigration statistics?

I, the Government, the Home Office and everyone else totally recognise the value of the higher education sector to our country. The Migration Advisory Committee will be looking at the question of international students, as well as the question of migration in general, so that we can consider those things fully.

Since the introduction of Horizon 2020, Welsh universities have received more than €83 million in funding from the programme, enabling their participation in more than 2,000 international collaborations. Will the Secretary of State confirm whether the UK Government intend to negotiate association with Horizon 2020’s successor programmes, so that universities in Wales can continue to benefit from and contribute to such programmes?

Horizon 2020 has worked very well for UK universities. In fact, we have the second-highest number of participants in those programmes of any EU state. Of course, it is vital and in everybody’s interest that we continue to work co-operatively with our near European neighbours on many things, including university research.

I welcome the Secretary of State and his team to their places. He will no doubt be aware of the challenges of getting young people, especially girls, into STEM careers. Given the importance of those subjects to our economic development, does he agree that the UK’s immigration policy for prospective academic and research staff from the EU should not be restrictive?

I alluded a moment or two ago to the Migration Advisory Committee and the work it will be doing. This country has always been clear that we want to remain attractive to and welcome the brightest and the best. We have a very successful and very international, outward-looking higher education sector, and I anticipate that continuing.

The Royal Society of Edinburgh said in its evidence to the Migration Advisory Committee that the UK risks undermining the Scottish Government’s efforts on developing interest in and the uptake of STEM subjects if restrictive immigration policies are put in place. What discussions has the Secretary of State had in this area with the Home Secretary and with university principals, to commit to looking at a tailored immigration policy for Scotland?

As I say, we will be looking at all aspects of this, with regard to both students and academics. More widely, the Migration Advisory Committee is looking at immigration and the role it plays in different sectors of the economy. We continue to discuss with our European neighbours what will happen in the future, and my hon. Friend the Minister for Higher Education will be speaking to EU Science Ministers later this week. It is in everybody’s interest that we work for the good of the whole United Kingdom to ensure that we continue to have such a highly successful higher education system.