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EU Educational and Research Programmes

Volume 672: debated on Monday 2 March 2020

7. What plans he has to ensure UK access to EU educational and research programmes after the transition period; and if he will make a statement. (901012)

12. What plans he has to ensure UK access to EU educational and research programmes after the transition period; and if he will make a statement. (901017)

I stress that the UK remains open to participation in elements of Erasmus+ on a time-limited basis, provided that the terms are in the UK’s interests. The UK will consider a relationship in line with non-EU member state participation in certain EU programmes, including Horizon Europe.

As the Minister says herself, the proposal for the future EU relationship suggests that the Government will take part in only certain elements of Erasmus+ and only for a time-limited period. Will she explain what it is about the Erasmus+ scheme that the Secretary of State thinks is not beneficial? Why on earth would participation be on just a temporary basis?

I am sure that we can all agree that the Erasmus scheme offers a wonderful opportunity for international mobility for students. However, it is vital that we utilise our exit from the European Union to ensure that such programmes deliver for everybody in our country, which is why we will make sure that we proceed in our best interests and why we will sign up only if it is on the terms of the UK’s interests.

The Scottish Government and partners have invested around £85 million in a state-of-the-art college campus in my constituency of Falkirk. Students from all over Europe attend the Forth Valley College. EU students bring a huge economic benefit to the college, Falkirk, Scotland and the UK, and they enrich our institutions, both culturally and academically. What steps is the Department taking to ensure that the UK remains open, attractive and competitive for EU students in the years ahead? I would like the Minister to develop her answer a wee bit more about what steps are being put in place.

We are committed to remaining open to participating in elements of the Erasmus scheme, as I have pointed out. The Government are very positive about the benefits of students coming to this country, which was exactly why the Prime Minister announced that there will be a graduate option from 2021 so that graduates will be able to work in this country for the two years following their degree.

I welcome the Minister to her place—and, indeed, all the new Ministers to their places.

Any participation in EU funding programmes will no doubt depend on the UK’s position regarding EU students. As universities are currently recruiting for the academic year starting in 2021, they need clear answers, so will the Minister confirm whether EU students will be treated as international students from 2021 in respect of their fee and immigration status?

I am sure that the hon. Member can appreciate that the details are currently being negotiated. We will update the House as soon as possible.

It should be clear to the House that our universities have an enviable reputation around the world. Indeed, research and education are two of our greatest exports. In the light of that, what steps is the Minister taking to ensure that that success not only continues but increases?

This is essential. We have a target for 2030 of 600,000 international students coming to this country. We do value their importance as an international facilitator in our education system.

A total of 32% of 15 to 30-year-olds from the UK can read and write in a foreign language, compared with 79% in France, 91% in Germany and an incredible 99% in Denmark. Does the Minister believe that cutting off access to programmes such as Erasmus will boost or further worsen those dismal figures?

I am sorry that the hon. Member does not seem to have listened because we are going to try to participate in Erasmus, and nobody has talked today about cutting off our ability to do so.