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Higher Education: Overseas Collaboration

Volume 649: debated on Monday 12 November 2018

6. What recent discussions he has had with the Home Secretary on the effect of immigration law on the ability of higher education establishments to engage effectively in work with their counterparts overseas. (907542)

I have had conversations with the Home Secretary about the Migration Advisory Committee review and its implications for the higher education sector. We of course want to ensure that academics and researchers can come to the UK and collaborate with the brightest and the best.

Large-scale collaborative research projects take up to about two years to plan, so universities already need to be thinking beyond 2020. What assurance can the Minister give them today about funding levels after this date, and where will such funding come from?

I assume the hon. Gentleman is referring to the Horizon 2020 research programme. The UK has made it very clear that we want to fully associate with the successor programme to Horizon 2020—Horizon Europe—to ensure that our researchers can continue to collaborate with the brightest and the best in Europe.

Despite spending nearly £2,000 on visa fees, Dr Mohamed Alnor, a professor from the Sudan International University, was denied entry to the UK to attend a conference in Glasgow last month. This is becoming a common situation for academics from the middle east, Africa and India. What assurances can the Minister give our academic community that this issue will be addressed immediately?

The Prime Minister made it clear in her Jodrell Bank speech earlier this year that we welcome all international researchers. In fact, at least 30% of the researchers in the UK are from abroad. On the new immigration system that is being considered, we will make sure that we facilitate the brightest and the best being able to come here, work here and collaborate with our researchers.

But the Glasgow conference is not unique. In Liverpool last month, 10 delegates were refused entry, including one from India whose research has been sponsored by the UK Government. Professor McKee from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has said:

“Academic collaboration is yet another consequence of the government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy, denying visas to those working on the ground to improve the health of some of the poorest people in the world”.

How will the Minister ensure that the UK continues to be open for international collaborations and conferences?

The hon. Lady is referring to a specific case, and I cannot comment in detail about it. Needless to say, we are open and welcoming. Just in July, the Government introduced the new tier 5 visa regime to allow academics to come here on short-term visas to collaborate with researchers here. We are genuinely open to sectoral research and sectoral collaboration. If there is a specific instance where someone was disappointed, I would be happy to look at it.