(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Education if he will make a statement on Government policy regarding tuition fees for EU students after the UK has left the European Union.
The Government have repeatedly made it clear that we absolutely value international exchange and collaboration in education and training as part of our vision for a global Britain. We believe that the UK and European countries should continue to give young people and students the chance to benefit from each other’s world-leading universities post exit.
Over the weekend, the media reported on a leaked Cabinet document discussing Government policy on EU student access to finance products for the 2020-21 academic year and beyond. At this time, I want to tell the House that no decision has yet been made on the continued access to student finance for EU students. Discussions at Cabinet level are ongoing and should remain confidential. I will make no comment on this apparent leak, which is deeply regrettable.
Students from the EU make a vital contribution to the university sector. It is testament to the quality and reputation of our higher education system that so many students from abroad choose to come and study here. As I stated earlier, since 2017 EU student numbers are up 3.8% and non-EU student numbers are up by 4.9%. In July 2018, we announced that students from the European Union starting courses in England in the 2019-20 academic year will continue to be eligible for home fees status, which means that they will be charged the same tuition fees as UK students and have access to tuition fee loans for the duration of their studies. Applications for students studying in academic year 2020-21 open in September 2019 and the Government will provide sufficient notice for prospective EU students and the wider higher education sector on fee arrangements ahead of the 2020-21 academic year and the subsequent years, which, as I have just stated, will obviously reflect our future relationship with European Union and the negotiations on that going forward.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. We have all read in the leaked reports that the Secretary of State plans to withdraw the home fee status for EU nationals from 2020 onwards. The Minister cannot confirm the Government’s policy today, so when will universities get the certainty they need to plan for their future? Has his Department carried out any assessment of how many EU students would no longer study here as a result of this change?
At a time when the finances of universities are a matter of increasing concern, what impact will these changes have on the sustainability of our institutions? This issue should concern us all. International students make a net contribution to the public finances of tens of billions of pounds a year, so can the Minister tell us how much our public services will lose if fewer EU students come to study here, and how much education exports would fall by if EU students lost home fee status?
Only a month ago, the Secretary of State, along with the International Trade Secretary, launched an international education strategy. They said that education exports would reach £25 billion a year by 2030 and international student numbers would reach 600,000 by the same year. How can they publish this strategy one month, and then pursue a strategy that will undermine it the next? Does he still expect that 600,000 international students will come to the UK every year by 2030 if this rise in tuition fees is introduced?
Time and again, this Government have undermined our universities through their shambolic handling of Brexit. The future of Erasmus and Horizon 2020 are already in doubt, and now the very opportunities that we offer to young people from across the EU are being taken away. It is not in our interest to build walls between our world-class universities and our nearest neighbours, yet this Government are committed to doing exactly that.
I thank the hon. Lady for raising this urgent question. It is important that we all recognise that EU students and staff make a vital contribution to our universities. It is also important that those people understand that the Government are determined to ensure that, even though we are leaving the European Union, we are not leaving our academic research partnerships behind. While I sit in the Department for Education as Minister for Universities, I also—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) is chuntering; either he wants to hear my answer or he does not. When it comes to setting out a position, it is important that this House does not go down a route of unnecessary negativity and does not somehow send out a message that the United Kingdom is an unwelcoming place.
We are determined when it comes to our universities and our EU student exchanges, and we have set out the international education strategy, which has the ambition of 600,000 extra international students by 2030, as well as setting an investment figure of £35 billion. [Interruption.] As the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) says—if she would not interrupt me—the economic importance of our higher education sector is reflected in the need to attract EU students and students from across the globe. That is the crux of the matter. We want to ensure that our nation is attractive internationally.
We have given commitments and guarantees regarding all successful Erasmus participations and regarding the Horizon 2020 science programmes, from which so many of our universities benefit. We made it a priority very early on after the referendum that we would set out the post-EU exit Government guarantee and the Government guarantee extension—that is, that we would fund the lifetime of these projects before Brexit if these applications were successful, and even post Brexit to December 2020.
We are drawing up our immigration system for January 2021 onwards. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East is again chuntering. Labour Members have called for an urgent question; either they want me to answer it or they do not. The point is that they are threatening a situation and claiming that we are somehow turning our backs to our European partners. That simply is not the case. With regard to our negotiations, I have spoken to about 15 European higher education Ministers. We need to make sure that we commit to them that Britain remains an attractive place for students from all nations across the world to come for work and to study. That is why we have established our international education strategy, why we have made the commitment on the guarantee, and why, rightly, we continue to work on our negotiations with the EU. If we had signed and passed a deal in this House, we would have had the certainty going forward to December 2020. Labour Members, with their Janus-faced—two-faced—approach, cast aspersions about the levels of uncertainty with regard to EU student funding when we would have guaranteed that funding for the next two years but they decided to vote against it. We need to work with universities globally to make sure that we raise our attainment. Our universities are world-class, with four in the world top 10 and 18 in the top 100. We want to support our universities. That is why we have published the international education strategy and why we want to work with them going forward.
Labour already offers students supposedly free tuition fees. Of course, there is no such thing as free tuition fees—they are paid for by the taxpayer, and this would cost the taxpayer an additional £12.5 billion. Labour’s additional policy, now, of saying that it would fund all EU students coming here to be able to study free of charge without having to pay back their tuition fees would cost at least £445 million a year. We have talked about magic money trees in the past—when it comes to Labour, it seems that we are talking about a magic money forest. We need to make sure that we have a fiscally responsible Government who look after our universities. That also means ensuring that we do not deceive our universities by claiming that we can spend money that we do not have.
It is not right that we should discriminate against our other international students. Does the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne believe that we should offer a student finance package for European students once we have left the EU—a system that we have belonged to as members of the EU? Once we are no longer members of the EU, is it right that we then discriminate against Indian students or Chinese students? What does she say to them? How would she address the fact that her policy would discriminate against most of the students across the globe, at the same time as not having the money to be able to fund these student places?
Does my hon. Friend agree that if we are going to spend limited hard-pressed taxpayers’ funds, it would be better to spend them on the poorest countries in this world—the developing nations—and not on some of the richest, most well-to-do countries in the world?
It is important to reflect on our obligations with regard to international policy in terms of both higher education and our sustainable development goals agreed by the United Nations. That is why, in science and research, we have looked at things like the global challenges research fund, which focuses specifically on developing nations, and the Newton fund, worth £735 million, which also focuses on those developing nations. We want to ensure that we can be developing student partnerships and exchanges with all countries. I recently met the organisers of the Fulbright scholarships. Last December, we increased the amount going into those scholarships by about £400,000. We have also set up the Generation UK programme for China.
It is interesting to hear the Minister talk about these UK taxpayer-funded schemes, because we know that many of the people involved in them are not able to get visas to come and collaborate with their colleagues here in the UK, so the system is already failing.
The SNP recognises that our EU students are a national asset. As such, the Scottish Government have confirmed that EU students starting courses in Scotland in 2020 will continue to receive free tuition, because these young people across the EU are already planning where they are going to be studying in 2020. Can the Minister confirm when the fee status of EU nationals starting courses in England in 2020 will be announced? They must know this very soon, or we will lose them anyway. The European temporary leave to remain scheme will not suit many courses, as was mentioned in Education questions. Will he therefore work with the Home Office to ensure that his scheme matches a course rather than matches an idea that suits a very small number of students?
Contrary to the assertions of the Universities Minister earlier, the Higher Education Statistics Agency reports that after years of growth in EU student numbers, enrolments of EU students dropped for the first time last year. He must recognise that. We are already making the UK a less attractive place to study, and that is economically damaging. Although he is right to recognise the importance of international students, having EU students enables richer participation in schemes such as Horizon 2020. The Government have expressed enthusiasm to participate in the successor programme. How does he envisage that happening when our credibility in Europe has been undermined? Finally, the post-study work scheme has been economically and culturally beneficial to Scotland. When will the scheme be reintroduced for international students from the EU and further afield?
I will touch on several points that the hon. Lady made. During oral questions we heard concerns raised about the right to remain. I regularly meet Scottish Minister Richard Lochhead, and I will reflect upon representations he has made to me and work with the Home Office. The immigration White Paper will look at all issues relating to visas or post-study work schemes. It is important that that consultation takes place, and I urge Members to participate in it.
At the moment, we are keen to look at association to the successor scheme to Horizon 2020, Horizon Europe. That will begin later this year. The key point is that postgraduate tuition fees are separate from undergraduate tuition fees, and we do not want to do anything that will damage the potential of UK universities to research and continue with their research partnerships. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Blackpool South (Gordon Marsden) seems keen to keep on chuntering from a sedentary position. He is welcome to make a contribution in a moment, but I am trying to answer the points made by the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan).
I welcome the hon. Lady mentioning that this is taxpayers’ money and that subsidy is involved. It is right that we consider how that subsidy is spent effectively. I urge caution that we do not simply send out a message that EU students happen to be unique. We want students from all parts of the globe—Chinese students, Indian students and students from the ASEAN countries—to be involved and raise their opportunity, and to send out a crucial message that when it comes to soft power, the UK will remain a global leader in higher education.
I thank my hon. Friend for his explanation; I know he thinks deeply about these issues. Does he agree that if we want our university sector to continue to be world-leading, our action must match our ambition? While no decision has been made on this policy, the cumulative impact of some of our policy decisions—whether it is the proposed immigration cap, which would make it more difficult for researchers from abroad to work and study here, or this policy, which would hike up fees for EU students, or the lack of clarity on Erasmus—could be that we undermine the university sector and make it more difficult for young people from this country to live, study and work abroad, and this Government could be portrayed as one who are against young people.
I thank my predecessor for his remarks. The work that he did so soon after we voted to leave the European Union, making the Government guarantee in July 2018 and extending student finance for home fees last year, has set us in a position that is welcome among our European partners. I would also like to put on record my thanks for the work he did in establishing the high-level group on EU exit, which meets monthly. It gives the opportunity for university professionals, including the Russell Group, the University Alliance and MillionPlus, to meet and discuss issues of concern and to ensure that those are fed in internally and that we listen to those points—and we are listening.
We are listening when it comes to the consultation on the immigration White Paper. We are listening when it comes to ensuring that we have a sustainable future with our relationship with the European Union. We are listening when it comes to working on our plans for future association with and participation in the International Science Council, including on making guarantees about Horizon 2020 and looking at association on Horizon Europe. It is right that the Government do this, in tandem with working across all Departments with a cross-Government approach to looking at how we exit the European Union, and I will continue to make sure that I play my role as Universities Minister in backing our universities.
The political declaration agreed between the EU and the UK talks about establishing
“general principles, terms and conditions for the United Kingdom’s participation in Union programmes…in areas such as science and innovation, youth, culture and education”.
Do I take it from the reply the Minister has given this afternoon that the question of tuition fees—fees charged to EU students studying here in the UK and to UK students studying elsewhere in the EU—does not come within the terms of that wording, and that if that is the case, there is no bar to the Government choosing to increase those fees before any negotiations on the future partnership with the EU have even begun?
I think the right hon. Gentleman is pointing to paragraph 61—is it?—of the political declaration on the future partnership with the EU. I wish he would support the political declaration, alongside voting for the deal, because we could then get on with discussing those issues with our European partners.
When it comes to Horizon and Erasmus, part of the reason why we find ourselves in difficulties is the uncertainty that there is without knowing whether we are in a deal or a no deal situation. For all the Opposition Members talking about instability and the lack of certainty, it is on their backs that this is taking place. Those voting against the deal have prevented us from moving on to phase 2 of the negotiations.
We have made commitments on 2019-20 student finance, and we will shortly be making an announcement for 2020-21, ready for applications opening in September 2019. Obviously, any future financial obligations will be part of the spending review, and it is right that they are looked at by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, generally speaking, the rule the Government should adopt, given the unfortunate decision that this country has taken to leave the European Union and in order to make our way in the world to the greatest advantage, is that we must retain a very open system to allow the brightest and the best to come and study here from all over the world at equal rates of charging, but also with a regime that allows them to stay here and work in an orderly, sensible manner that is easily enforced?
From the international perspective of the United Kingdom’s universities, I entirely agree that we now have the highest ever number of applications from foreign countries—about 158,000.[Official Report, 9 May 2019, Vol. 659, c. 10MC.] Looking at this in the round, it is important to reflect on the fact that people want to come to the United Kingdom, and we have an obligation to ensure that we make that possible. However, I suggest that we will support our universities and ensure, as we develop our partnership with the European Union, that we do not exclude those from other foreign countries. That is why we will shortly be publishing our international research and innovation strategy, in addition to the international education strategy. It will ensure that we have a cross-Government approach not just to finance but to the welfare of students, so that when it comes to mental health, accommodation and the full range of student experience, we align in a way that ensures international students feel welcome in this country.
May I tell the Minister that this was a deeply disappointing statement? He may not have been chuntering, but he was certainly not sending out a clear message. I do not know of a university leader, or university town or city, that is persuaded by the kind of stuff he is saying about the role of universities in the coming years. The fact of the matter is that there has always been the possibility of being a citizen of Europe for someone who is wealthy, like many of the people on his Back Benches, but not for an ordinary member of this society. Our students have been able to be European citizens—that is what they value—but now they have been cheated of that. This will not be about pounds, shillings and pence, but about robbing young people of the heritage of being real European citizens.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. Further to a previous intervention of his, I am looking forward to coming up to Huddersfield on 10 May. That demonstrates that I do take action when he asks about my commitment to universities. I am looking forward to meeting the vice-chancellor and other university representatives there, and I am sure that they will discuss these issues with me.
When it comes to opportunities for UK students, it is worth noting that, yes, 16,000 UK students benefit from a European education—that is obviously part of the current system through the EU structures—but that contrasts with a total of 34,000 UK students who are educated internationally, in both EU and non-EU countries. We want to be able to grow that number as well. There is, however, a disproportionate impact on the number of UK students studying in the EU compared with the number of EU students studying in the UK. We would obviously wish to rebalance that and ensure that UK students have the opportunity to study abroad, both in the EU and outside it.
I do not know whether the Minister has been to the University of Huddersfield before.
Not yet. Well, I myself gave a lecture there on 24 June 2016, and it is a very fine establishment indeed. I hope that the Minister enjoys his visit there as much as I enjoyed mine.
Last November, the EU27 and the UK agreed to the 147-point document about the future framework. Point 11, right at the top, sets out the ongoing commitment to co-operation in science, innovation, youth, culture and education. It calls for
“fair and appropriate financial contribution”
and “fair treatment of participants”. Does my hon. Friend agree that the best way to help support our ongoing co-operation on science and students is to vote for the withdrawal agreement and firm up the details of our ongoing co-operation, as already agreed between the UK and the EU27?
Absolutely. As a Minister, I am keen to move to the next stages of the negotiations around our future partnerships—in fact I am desperate to do so. I encourage Members who voted against the deal to recognise that it is a great deal when it comes to continuing our education and science partnerships.
I attended the EU Competitiveness Council on 18 February, and I talked to EU Ministers. They recognise the world-leading position of UK universities and that the UK does disproportionately well out of scientific grants. We put £4 billion into Horizon 2020, but we get £5.7 billion back. Why would we not want to continue to participate in that?
We are moving on to Horizon Europe as the next process of the scientific partnerships. I will attend the EU Competitiveness Council on 28 May as Science Minister. I will discuss with colleagues on the margins issues such as Erasmus education partnerships and exchanges, which the deal would also have protected. I urge all hon. Members to give me the opportunity to go to Brussels and get on with the next stage of the negotiations.
If UK universities have to increase their fees for EU students and the EU universities reciprocate, will that not mean that only the richest UK students will be able to study abroad? What specifically does the Minister intend to do about that?
I go back to the statement. All these issues around reciprocal arrangements and partnerships are matters for future negotiations. I am keen to make sure that we can get on to that page. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will now vote for the deal, to make sure that we can do so.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, post Brexit, we want to continue to attract bright students from many countries all over the world? The proposal that we should exempt EU students from paying fees yet impose them on those from other countries is inherently unfair and, in fact, discriminatory. It does not make economic sense or reflect the open Britain that we are striving to create.
She’s not voting for your deal either.
I urge my hon. Friend to do so as well. I will not discriminate on either side of the House. It is a great deal, which will provide us with certainty. We have been closely involved with our European partners for many decades. Ensuring that we continue some of those partnerships, which have both social and economic value, is important.
My hon. Friend is right about the international perspective. People voted to leave the European Union to ensure that Britain can be outward-looking, positive, not insular and not nativist. We want to be able to reach out to other countries and meet our responsibilities on the sustainable development goals. We want students from India and ASEAN—Association of Southeast Asian Nations—countries who want to come to the UK to study, but cannot at the present time, to have the opportunity to do so. Why should European students be given a disproportionate opportunity when it comes to fee levels? She has a valid point.
UK higher education is one of our great national and international success stories, yet there can be no doubt that the Prime Minister’s immigration policies have done enormous damage to our international reputation. And here we are again—the cat is out of the bag—looking to charge EU students tuition fees and make as much money out of them as possible before the withdrawal agreement has even been signed. Will that not just use EU students as cash cows, but rob UK students of the opportunity to study abroad? How many more national success stories are we prepared to sacrifice on the altar of Brexit?
When it comes to national success stories, I want to ensure that our international education strategy provides opportunities for UK students to go to every corner of the globe, not just the EU. We have provided student finance for 2019-20 and will shortly be making an announcement on 2020-21. Any future decision on access to finance for EU nationals will come later on as part of the negotiations we will take forward. The hon. Gentleman’s logic is: why not ensure that access to student finance is free for every student internationally? The Labour Front Benchers have just proposed a policy that would ensure that British taxpayers pay for European students’ fees in their entirety. I do not feel that that is necessarily best value for the taxpayer, and I am not sure his constituents would either.
Despite what all the doomsayers constantly claim, will the Minister confirm for the record what is actually happening in relation to the numbers of foreign students coming into this country to study?
As I stated, since 2017 there has been a 3.8% increase in EU students applying and a 4.9% increase in non-EU students. It is welcome that last year we had a record number of international students, both EU and non-EU, applying to our British universities. I congratulate all universities on being able to be so welcoming. We want that to continue.
The Minister must know that the university recruitment cycle for 2020 is already under way, and the ability of UK universities to attract and recruit students from the EU will be seriously affected if the fee status remains uncertain. He has the ability to settle this matter today. We do not need to vote for a flawed withdrawal agreement; the Minister could simply roll the current arrangements forward.
I recognise the hon. Lady’s point, which was made to me by Vivienne Stern, the director of Universities UK International. The recruitment procedures are ongoing. Applications for the 2021 academic year will open in September, and I am keen for the Government to make an announcement shortly. We have to go through cross-Government processes, which is one of the reasons why we have seen this unfortunate leak in the first place. As a Minister, I am keen to ensure we can put that security in place for universities. I hope to ensure that we can do so in due course.
With four of 10 of the top universities globally being in the UK, international students are fortunate to be able to access higher education in this country. As a member of the International Development Committee, I am keen that students from the developing world have the same access. Does the Minister agree that students from relatively well-off EU countries should not be subsidised at the cost of students coming here from the developing world for higher education?
When we look at the new immigration system, the new student finance system that will emerge post ’20-21 and whatever new system emerges on future scientific partnerships, it is important that we are bold and that we go beyond the status quo. What we have already established with developing countries, such as the global challenges research fund and the Newton fund, ensures that British researchers can work in partnership with researchers from those countries. We should look at expanding those opportunities.
I am keen to expand opportunities that may not have existed before and to ensure that opportunities that were there previously are able to continue. I am sure that our international education strategy, as well as our international research and innovation strategies and the spending review—when it comes to looking at investments that we will need to make, that is obviously a critical part of the next financial framework—will have that international context in mind.
I support the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) about the consequences of these proposals for universities. However, this is unfortunately yet another example of the damage that Brexit is likely to inflict on future generations of young people. The House will return to further discussion of Brexit soon. When he casts his vote on various options, will the Minister consider the damage that will be caused to our universities and to the standing of British higher education around the world by any Brexit?
I am afraid that I do not agree with the hon. Lady on this. The British people voted to leave, and I am determined to ensure that I fulfil my manifesto commitments to my constituency, which also voted to leave, by making sure that that happens. I want to ensure that we can mitigate any circumstances that may arise from leaving the European Union, to ensure that we continue to benefit from the opportunities that we have had as a member as we move forward into the new relationship with our EU partners and also move forward internationally.
On the votes, when it comes to looking at the deal and the future economic partnership, I ask the hon. Lady to please, although it sounds like she will not—[Interruption.] Brexit is happening, and we need to ensure that we have—[Interruption.] Hon. Members seem to query that and suggest that they do not want it to happen, but I am afraid that is what the British people voted for. I am sure that when we, as a House— [Interruption.] I cannot actually believe what I am hearing from Opposition Members. When they stood in 2017, they also said that they were going to respect the result of the referendum; it sounds like they do not believe in the manifesto commitments that they made.
However, I believe that the deal is a good one. It is vital for scientific and education partnerships going forward, which it will protect for the next two years, and will allow for future negotiations, in order to make sure that we can continue to work with our European neighbours.
As a member of the board of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, I agree with my hon. Friends the Members for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) and for Crawley (Henry Smith) about the importance of encouraging students from low-income countries to come here. I would like us to provide more scholarships and bursaries out of our international development fund than we do at the moment; we are falling behind quite a number of other countries, but by doing that we can increase our influence. Does he agree that it is absolutely vital to avoid any kind of cliff edge and have a smooth transition from the arrangement we have now, which is beneficial, to the future arrangement, and that we do not suddenly cut off opportunities, both for our students studying in the European Union and vice versa?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. When it comes to tropical diseases, future scientific research on climate change or the opportunities that agri-tech might present to developing countries, it is absolutely right that we look at what we can do to play our part to help the poorest countries across the globe in those endeavours. I will be happy to discuss with him, and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine when I am next up in Liverpool, any potential policy initiatives that he might have in this sphere.
On the point about a transition period, the deal is a transition. We will be able then to get round the table and open up the square brackets around our future relationship, which are currently closed because of Members’ indecision and failure to back this EU deal—the EU helped to put it together and backs it also—so that we can move forwards together, safeguarding scientific partnerships and working on education partnerships.
In many of his responses, the Minister has seemed to imply that being a member of the EU was stopping the UK having people from elsewhere in the world, but that is up to the Home Office here. He must recognise that the workforce is the biggest problem for all four UK health services. Medical and dental degrees take five years. Does he seriously think people will come here, pay enormous fees and then at three years roll the dice on whether they get a continuing visa?
It is important to reflect that leaving the EU provides us with an opportunity to decide our own immigration policy—we are beginning that work for 2021 onwards, which is why we have the immigration White Paper and consultation—and the freedom to decide our own immigration policy. On the future position of fees, obviously we have been in the EU and have reciprocal fee requirements, but we also want to make sure that international students are not discriminated against, as they currently are—the hon. Lady cannot deny that international student fees are significantly more than those for EU students. It is important that we listen to universities about what future schemes for immigration and student exchange should look like.
The Minister says he wants us to continue to enjoy the current benefits of our EU membership but after we have left the EU and that he wants us to vote for a withdrawal agreement to end discrimination against international students, but there is absolutely nothing stopping him today ruling out this increase in fees for EU students and the wider international student body. It matters greatly that we can attract people but also offer our young people those opportunities in EU countries. Does he not understand that his failure to rule out these increases today will have an impact on the decisions of students for 2019-20 in both the EU and the wider international student body?
We have already guaranteed home fees status for EU students for the 2019-20 academic year. The decision for 2020-21 will be made shortly and applications will open in September 2019. I think that the guarantee for 2019-20 shows we are keen to work on this in the negotiations. It is a cross-Government piece of work. As I have mentioned, it is vital that we work on issues such as immigration and build international relationships, but that involves the Foreign Office and the Department for International Trade, which are involved in the international education strategy, which is why I cannot give such a guarantee on the Floor of the House. It is important that we have a joined-up piece of work from the Government and that we guarantee our responsibilities to our European partners—and I hope that, to do that, the House will vote for the deal to give us that opportunity—while continuing to build on commitments internationally.
Surely, the Minister must accept as a point of general principle that if a student wants to come to the UK to do an undergraduate degree, they should be able to apply for and obtain a visa that covers the whole period of that undergraduate degree and that it is utterly unfair and counterproductive to ask them to apply for a completely different type of visa either three quarters or three fifths of the way through?
On this point about European temporary leave to remain, which we also discussed in oral questions earlier, I have spoken to the Scottish Higher Education Minister, Richard Lochhead, about the 36 months and the issue of moving to a four-year course, which disproportionately affects Scottish universities, and I have relayed those concerns to the Home Office. I hope that, given the White Paper approach to consultation, we can consider the implementation of a wide range of issues, including visas and the issue that the hon. Gentleman has raised. However, it is important to recognise that it is permissible to apply for a tier 4 visa to continue to study.
Will the Minister confirm that the number of EU nationals applying to UK universities is already falling and will be down this year, even before Brexit bites fully? How does he suggest that universities should mitigate that loss of student numbers on the roll?
There are currently a record 139,000 EU students at UK universities, and the number of EU applications has risen by 3.8% since 2017. It is important for us to put out a positive message rather than encouraging European students who may happen to be watching our exchanges not to apply. Of course they should apply. People say, “Erasmus will be affected, so do not apply,” but the Government have given guarantees on Erasmus, on science research funding and on 2019-20 home fee status. We will make announcements about 2020-21 before September, so that students will have the necessary knowledge when they apply.
A 17-year-old constituent of mine came to my surgery a few weeks ago in great distress. She has lived here for 16 years, since she was one year old. She is at St Roch’s Secondary School and wants to take a place at college, but she cannot obtain student finance to do so because, according to the rules, she does not qualify within the meaning of the Immigration Act 1971. Does the Minister not recognise that that is an absurd aberration? What will he do to help my constituent?
I will happily take a look at that specific issue and take it up with the Student Loans Company, which I visited in Glasgow about a month ago, and I am happy to continue our correspondence about the issue.
Our higher education sector has been one of the great success stories of recent years, and we have seen huge expansion, which has been predicated on our being part of the European Union and attracting the best international students. The Minister speaks of talking this country down, but the reality is that universities such as Warwick, which is part of the Russell Group, have lost 3% of undergraduate applications from the EU and 9% of postgraduate applications. Will the Minister meet me, and the vice-chancellor of Warwick University—one of our finest international universities—to discuss his proposals and what their economic and financial impact will be?
I should be happy to have the opportunity to meet the hon. Gentleman and the vice-chancellor of Warwick University. I do not remember exactly where Warwick comes in my universities tour, but it may be coming up shortly. I recognise its international importance. I last visited it two years ago, in a different ministerial guise, and had the opportunity to meet Lord Bhattacharyya, who, sadly, departed recently. He worked across an international field to establish the university’s manufacturing centre.
I listen to concerns that are expressed. I have quoted figures that have been published, but some Members have raised issues relating to the current academic year, in respect of which figures have not been published. I want to ensure—as I do when I go to Brussels, when it comes to some of the negotiations on Horizon Europe—that I make the positive case that we want to protect postgraduate students in particular. We are committed to spending 2.4% of GDP on research and development, and if we are to hit that target by 2027, it is vital that we have a pipeline of talent that is national, European and international. That was a long answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question, but, yes, I will certainly meet him and the vice-chancellor.
I was pleased to hear that the Minister will shortly visit the University of Huddersfield. As he is coming north, I wonder whether he would like to travel a little further and visit the University of Hull. We should be very pleased to see him.
Many EU students are currently studying at Hull university. Can the Minister guarantee that no matter what they are studying, as undergraduates or postgraduates, they will not be affected by the proposed changes?
I would certainly be delighted to come up to the University of Hull, which is one of the homes of one of my poetic heroes, Philip Larkin. I think also that Lord Norton of Louth still teaches politics at Hull. I would be keen, but I cannot guarantee that that would be on the same day as Huddersfield. However, going forward, if we can get the deal across the line—again, I urge Members to allow the opportunity to be able to begin future negotiations on education partnerships and on looking at both science and research when it comes to higher education—I want to ensure that we have the opportunity to provide those guarantees post 2021, although, obviously, we have made the guarantee for 2019-20. We will shortly be making announcements when it comes to the 2020-21 academic year. Going forward, that will be a matter for future negotiations with our EU partners.
I was reading Philip Norton’s text books as part of my undergraduate studies 35 years ago, but of course, Philip Norton was a very, very young man as a distinguished academic at that time. He does not seem to have got much older as far as I can tell.
These exchanges have shown exactly the problems with the political declaration: the Minister talks about guarantees, but of course they are not guarantees; they are aspirations for future negotiation. But there is one thing he could do today, which is reassure the 17,000 Erasmus+ students who are likely to be approved in May or June this year about 2021. Could he at least do that?
The Government guarantee, when it comes to participation in the Erasmus programmes, has stated that all successful participations as approved by the EU Commission will be eligible for the Government guarantee. I wrote to every single Higher Education Minister in Europe and the European economic area to ensure that they were aware of that guarantee commitment—many were not. I think that it is often a case of communication to make sure people are aware so that when it comes to those Erasmus participations being approved, the Government will fund them—not just for the year, but for the entirety of the exchange programme as it takes place.
On EU students, the Minister will know that, as he plans to raise the drawbridge into England through raising fees, in Wales we intend to keep a welcome in the hillside by keeping fees down. What impact does he imagine that differential fee rates will have on local economies? Does he not think it premature to announce raising fees when we have not exited on exit day, we are likely to have a European election and we might not—I hope not—leave the EU at all?
Again, we have made no announcement on raising any fees. The future decision on fee rates for EU students has yet to be made, as I stated in my opening remarks. The hon. Gentleman is right that setting tuition fees is a devolved matter. I work closely with devolved Ministers, and also make sure that we have a united approach in the United Kingdom to Welsh, Scottish and English university policy. However, I also totally respect the right of Welsh higher education policy makers to be able to look at different systems—for example, the Diamond review looked at access and part-time study.
We can learn a lot from each other in due course, and I have already been to Cardiff to meet the vice-chancellor Colin Riordan, who has raised research issues. Obviously, that is a UK-specific reserved matter, and I think it is important that we continue those dialogues, but I would say that no decisions have been made. We have provided the certainty on 2019-20, and an announcement on 2020-21 will be made shortly. Any future policies will be part of those future negotiations, which, if we can have the EU deal voted through by the House, we will be able to get on with.