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Brexit: EU Students

Volume 785: debated on Wednesday 11 October 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they intend to ensure that the benefits to the United Kingdom arising from European Union students studying at United Kingdom universities will be maintained post-Brexit.

My Lords, EU and international students enrich the UK financially and culturally. We will always ensure that our world-class higher education sector can attract students from Europe and elsewhere overseas. To support evidence-based decision-making on the future migration system we have commissioned the independent Migration Advisory Committee to report on the impact of EU and international students. To provide certainty to prospective EU students we have guaranteed that those starting courses in 2018-19 or before will remain eligible for student support.

My Lords, it is very difficult to know why the Government have referred this to the advisory committee given that the Minister’s colleague, the Home Office Minister, yesterday admitted that overseas students have negligible impact on the net migration statistics. The Government should just remove them entirely from that statistical return. He has guaranteed EU students up to 2018-19, but what then? It is now that students from other EU countries are considering coming to the UK in a couple of years’ time. We risk losing them to other countries. Will the Minister guarantee home-fee status and access to grants and fee loans for students from the EU from 2019-20 and access to the Erasmus+ programme?

The Government want to provide certainty to EU citizens living in the UK. We know that the sector cares about its current and prospective EU staff and students living in the UK and we want to reach a reciprocal agreement for EU citizens in Britain and UK nationals in Europe as quickly as possible. That is why we published our policy paper on 26 June to outline our offer for EU citizens and to provide them with the certainty that they need for their future.

My Lords, if we want to provide certainty we can do it here and now. We can make an absolute guarantee that the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, is answered in the affirmative. We can also make an absolute commitment to continue participation in Erasmus beyond 2019. What is stopping our doing that and taking a clear, unequivocal lead—and the moral high ground in the process?

As the House will know, we have given guarantees for 2018-19. In terms of 2019-20, that is subject to ongoing negotiations; the House knows that well.

My Lords, at present EU nationals are entitled to attend British universities on the same basis as home students. Absent any other agreed settlement in terms of Brexit, they will in future be international students, subject to international fees. What work are Her Majesty’s Government doing to ensure that EU students can continue to come on the basis they do now? I refer to my declaration as employed by Cambridge University.

I think I made it clear in my previous answer that certainty is given for 2018-19. Discussion is ongoing as to what will happen from then on.

Is my noble friend aware that at the moment we are looking very ungenerous and unwelcoming to people from outside the United Kingdom, particularly in the rest of Europe? Will he therefore accept the comment of my noble friend Lord Cormack that we should not haver or talk about this, that and the other but just say “yes” and give a clear indication of the kind of generous nation we have always been?

Well, wouldn’t it be easy to say that? I can only reiterate that, as the House will know, negotiations are continuing. However, the UK still has a great offer for EU and international students. With four universities in the world’s top 10 and 16 in the top 100, we are marketing ourselves abroad assiduously through the embassies and high commissions to continue to encourage students to come here to study.

We were not told by the Minister the remit of the committee that is being set up. Will it include the importance of research in our universities? Without this policy of a large number of EU students coming in, the creative work of our universities would be decimated.

Indeed, that could well be covered. Perhaps I may give the House a little more detail about the commission. It will consider the impact of both EU and non-EU students at all levels of education and will consider the whole of the UK, including its constituent nations and regions. As well as considering the overall impact, the MAC will be asked to consider the impact of tuition fees and other spending by international students on the national, regional and local economies and on the education sector as a whole.

Yes, I certainly will. This is a subject that comes up fairly frequently in the House and I am sticking to the lines that have been given by my colleague the Minister.

My Lords, are the Government aware of the impact that Erasmus students have had on the development of science in this country and of how detrimental their loss would be to many departments? I declare an interest as a member of the University of York, where we have benefited hugely from the mobility of students going both ways, and from their being able to work freely and to attend meetings and sessions when necessary while not having to fill out all kinds of paperwork before moving?

There was much talk about the importance of the university sector during the passage of the Higher Education and Research Bill, now an Act. The UK must remain among the best places in the world for science and innovation. We will continue to work along those lines and will seek to secure the best possible outcome for the UK research base as we exit the EU.

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Viscount has the sympathy of the House in having to stick, as he says, to a line which has been given to him but which, frankly, is inadequate. He can surely agree with the House that university research, and indeed university undergraduate work, extends over at least three, and often many more, years. Therefore, for him to say to the House, as if it were an act of generosity, that the arrangements will extend until 2018-19 really does not cut much ice, if he will forgive my putting it that way.

The noble Baroness will know that the uarantee includes those who are starting in that year for the whole of their course, right through until and beyond our exit from the EU. At home, we are increasing research and development investment by £4.7 billion over the period 2017-18 to 2020-21—so there is a lot going on in this country to support this important sector.