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Leaving the EU: Tertiary Education

Volume 659: debated on Monday 29 April 2019

6. What assessment he has made of the potential effect on tertiary education of the UK leaving the EU without an agreement. (910560)

8. What assessment he has made of the potential effect on tertiary education of the UK leaving the EU without an agreement. (910562)

The Government remain focused on securing a deal that will ensure an orderly exit from the EU. We are considering all aspects of how exiting the EU might affect education, including the delivery of the Government guarantee, attracting international students and staff, and access to student finance.

In contrast to Scotland, the Secretary of State proposes to remove home fee status from EU students after Brexit. This has created such concern that the Norwegian higher education Minister is advising students to avoid the UK. Is the Secretary of State proud that his plans are causing European students to avoid our universities?

I recently met the Norwegian Minister the hon. Lady mentions, Iselin Nybø, to reassure her of the UK Government’s commitment to student programmes such as Erasmus and scientific programmes such as Horizon 2020. What I am not happy with is Members talking down our higher education system when the Government want to ensure that we bring more students here. We are looking at how to do that as part of our education strategy.

In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the Government have proposed a temporary leave that will apply to EU citizens for 36 months, allowing EU students to complete their third-level degrees here in England. However, the majority of Scottish degree courses last for 48 months, and thus EU students will face the threat of being forced to leave before finishing their education. Will the Minister advise on what steps he has taken to address and right this policy, which will harm Scottish universities?

I recognise the point that the hon. Gentleman makes and the potential impact on Scottish universities, as does the Home Secretary, whose officials have been working closely with mine on this. The Government are now considering how best to ensure that students on four-year courses are easily able to move into the student system once their European temporary leave to remain expires. If European economic area or Swiss citizens wish to stay in the UK for longer than 36 months, they will need to apply and qualify for an immigration status under the main study routes of the UK’s new skills-based immigration system. Alternatively, they will be able to apply, under tier 4 of the points-based system, for a student visa to cover the full length of their course.

Our higher education institutions—including the Open University, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this month—are world class, but sadly, despite what the Minister says, the Government are letting those universities down. They are not giving clarity at the moment over access to Erasmus+, they are not guaranteeing continued access to Horizon Europe funding and there are fears over research grant collaboration with EU partners.

Now there are reports that the Government are preparing to charge EU students—[Interruption] Stop chuntering!—who currently pay UK fees, a hugely increased international rate, and to scrap their support when we leave the EU, with or without a deal. The Minister is wrong: statistics from the Russell Group show that EU student numbers are 3% down, and EU postgraduate numbers are 9% down for 2018-19. The Education Secretary is said to be pushing this forward. Does the universities Minister agree with it, and is it Government policy?

The hon. Gentleman talks about uncertainty, but it is uncertainty that he himself has created, as one of the Members who has not voted for a deal, which would have provided certainty on student mobility and student finance. The deal, if passed, will allow us to begin work on a future relationship that ensures that we can work together, with our universities sector and with our European partners. Although we are leaving the European Union, we are not leaving our European neighbours behind. We want to continue those close partnerships, which is why I have been in Brussels attending the European Competitiveness Council—I hope to do so again on 28 May—to ensure that we can associate into Horizon Europe. I want to continue to work on the possibilities for student exchanges. It is important that we maintain our university system not just as a European one but as an international one as well.