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Leaving the EU: Tertiary Education

Volume 664: debated on Monday 9 September 2019

1. What assessment he has made of the potential effect on tertiary education of the UK leaving the EU without an agreement. (912309)

20. What assessment he has made of the potential effect on tertiary education of the UK leaving the EU without an agreement. (912329)

Leaving the European Union with a deal remains the Government’s top priority. We will work in an energetic and determined manner to get the very best deal, and a better deal than has previously been put to this House. We are supporting the sector to manage the transition through Brexit, including providing reassurance on participation in EU-funded programmes, future migration arrangements and access to student support.

The right hon. Gentleman was always energetic and determined when he was the Government Chief Whip and we worked together. What reassurances can he provide to the University of Glasgow in my constituency, which is having to issue emergency advice in the event of a no deal? It is reminding research teams to conduct inventories of their materials in case it is not possible to pre-order perishable goods such as gases. It is reminding staff and students

“that, in the event of a no-deal withdrawal, EU countries may not admit individuals with passports which are due to expire within six months of the date of travel.”

This is the kind of debilitating effect it is having. Would it not be better to accept the inevitable, and rule out no deal and ask for the extension now?

We have worked and will continue to work closely with higher education institutions, including the University of Glasgow, to ensure, if we do leave without any deal with the European Union, that all mitigations are put in place. I very much look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman in this role as I did when we were both Chief Whips together.

Some 96% of EU students who study at Scottish universities enrol on courses that are longer than three years. Does the Secretary of State agree that Scottish universities cannot but be adversely impacted by the Home Office’s current temporary leave to remain scheme, which allows for students being here for three years, as in Scotland they would then need to apply for a tier 4 visa? Does he agree this is unfair?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. I know this matter has been raised with me by a number of Scottish Conservative and Unionist MPs and it is certainly something I am looking at closely, but I thank him for taking the time to raise it in the House.

I think leaving the European Union with no deal would be one of the most anti-social mobility steps this country could have taken in many years. Does the Secretary of State agree with me that the left-behind communities that are so often talked about by Ministers will be the ones worst hit? Perhaps the only double whammy that could follow that would be to scrap the opportunity areas, which are at least helping some of them to improve education standards.

I have spoken to quite a number of colleagues about the really valuable work the opportunity areas are doing and the impact—the very positive impact—they are having on the communities in which they are operating. We are looking at how we can develop that in the future.

Will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that as well as ensuring our great universities—such as Derby and Nottingham near my constituency—can continue to educate overseas students from the EU, he is working towards reciprocal agreements so that young people in my constituency of Erewash can continue to study in EU countries?

We are having such discussions with European member states, and we are making very good progress on this. It is very important that we ensure the United Kingdom remains a destination that EU students want to come to study in, and we have big ambitions to ensure we continue to deliver on that, but also that our students from our constituencies have the opportunity to study abroad.

There have been alarming reports that the Department for Education is considering an Erasmus+ replacement programme for England only, with potentially no consequential funding for the devolved Administrations. Will the Secretary of State admit that this would amount to a complete abandonment of students across the UK, and will he take this opportunity to confirm that an England-only scheme is not something this Government will consider?

We think that it is important for us to look at the interests of all students across the whole United Kingdom.

I am not sure that that was an answer. Last Thursday, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) asked the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union about the status of Erasmus students who are currently in Scotland, specifically if they go home, for example at Christmas, whether there is a guarantee that they can return in the event of a no-deal Brexit. In response to her question, the Minister stated, “Yes.” Will the Secretary of State detail how that process will work, given that those students are not applying for settled status?

I am very happy to write to the hon. Lady with more details and give her the reassurance that she seeks. We recognise how important it is for the UK as a whole to remain an attractive destination for people who wish to study, and that is vital in every component part of the United Kingdom, including Scotland.

Well, well, well. The Secretary of State has had quite a start. Rumour has it that he forgot to appoint a Skills Minister, and we are now waiting for our fifth Higher Education Minister in just two years. Will he tell us the fee status of European students after 2020, and will our universities still benefit from Horizon, Erasmus, and the European University Institute or not?

We continue our negotiations and discussions with the European Union to ensure that we have access to these schemes.

Well, I am sure that the Secretary of State would like me to shut up and go away, but I am not going to do that. He has to try harder with his answers. Will he publish officially his no-deal impact assessment and contingency plans, and tell us how much his Department is spending on no-deal preparations? Can he give us a clear guarantee that his no-deal plans do not include suspending or weakening food standards in our schools?