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Immigration Leglisation: Tertiary Education

Volume 659: debated on Monday 29 April 2019

4. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of proposed immigration legislation on tertiary education. (910558)

My visit to Space Studio West London this morning was excellent; a robot even transported my ministerial pack across the room. I was incredibly impressed.

On the immigration White Paper, I should say that the Government are undertaking a period of extensive engagement on the future of our immigration system. It will consider the views of business, academic institutions and employers. That will ensure that the future immigration system works for the whole UK, including students in tertiary education.

EU nationals are an integral part of academic institutions in Scotland, accounting for 20% of total staff and playing a crucial role in the research and teaching capacities of our colleges and universities. The £30,000 salary threshold is a critical threat to that. Does the Secretary of State personally support that policy, or will he finally support scrapping it?

As the Minister responsible in a different Department for science, research and innovation, I recognise the challenges presented by the £30,000 cap recommended by the Migration Advisory Committee. I understand that there is a period of consultation on this cap at the moment. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to make his representations known to the Home Office. I have also been working with the high-level group on exiting the European Union on this issue.

The SQA—Scottish Qualifications Authority—exams started in Scotland last week and today pupils are sitting exams in German, politics, biology and Gaelic. I am sure the whole House will join me in wishing them the very best of success. Gur math a thèid leibh!

The inclusion of international students in net migration figures continues to cause deep concerns across higher education, and it now seems that EU nationals will be subject to the same harsh regime. Can the Minister confirm that from 2021 EU nationals will pay annual fees of up to £25,000 to attend university in England?

There will be an urgent question on this issue later, but it is important to reflect on the fact that the Government have already committed for the 2019-20 academic year that there will be home fee status for EU students for the 2020-21 academic year. We will be making an announcement on that very shortly. It is also important to recognise that the number of EU students has risen by 3.8% since 2017. The Government want to ensure we do our best to attract the best and the brightest internationally, which is why we recently published our international education strategy. I want to ensure we do not just attract global talent from the EU. The key point here is to ensure we do not discriminate against EU students versus international students, but that we have a system that works for all students across the globe.

The UK’s hostile immigration environment seems to know no bounds. EU nationals will now experience the same harsh conditions as other international students. It seems that the Government are happy to ignore advice from universities, business and civic society in their attempt to curb international student numbers. What impact assessment has been made of potentially losing high-calibre EU students who may well decide to study in a more welcoming country?

On the urgent question, I will not comment on specific leaks when it comes to matters of policy yet to be decided, but we have to look at this issue in the international context. The number of non-EU students is also up, by 4.9%, which is testament to the fact that we have world-leading universities. Four out of the top 10 universities are in the UK, including Edinburgh in Scotland. We need to plan to ensure we have a sustainable system that backs talent coming to this country, both in terms of research and science. We will also be announcing an international research innovation strategy. We want to ensure that students come here, but we need to make sure it is affordable for the British taxpayer.

The Minister talks about numbers, but he will know that, according to the OECD, the UK market share has fallen from 12% in 2010 to 8% in 2016. That is equivalent to £9 billion in lost export earnings. He will also know that there is strong cross-party support for an amendment to the immigration Bill, which I have tabled with the hon. Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson), to reverse the policies that have led to that decline. Will he agree to meet us, so that together we can persuade his Government colleagues of the need to back those changes?

I am always happy to meet the hon. Gentleman. I am sure he remembers that when I was a Cabinet Office I happily worked with him on an amendment he tabled to the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 regarding student registration. However, since 2017, the figures show a rise in EU and non-EU students. He mentions market share. He is absolutely right that we want to do more and that we need to do more. That is why we published our international education strategy, which has the ambition not just of raising the complete value of international education from £30 billion to £35 billion by 2030, but of putting in the figure of 600,000 students. It is not just about having a system that works around visas, but the whole student experience and ensuring the UK is the best place to study globally.