Expert View

Post-Brexit student rules will degrade our universities

by David Hannay | 29.04.2019

David Hannay is a member of the House of Lords and former UK ambassador to the EU and UN.

Today’s press reports yet more dissension in the Cabinet, this time over the treatment of students coming to UK universities from the EU after the Brexit transition period in the prime minister’s deal ends. That is, of course, in the somewhat unlikely event of that deal ever being approved by Parliament. It is just one more sign of the chaos and self-harm into which the government’s post-Brexit immigration policy is fast descending.

The UK’s universities are second only to those in the US, and are world leaders in an international market for higher education services which continues to grow rapidly. This market caters not only for undergraduates but for post-graduate students and doctoral researchers. It could result in highly qualified entrants into our labour market – if only our immigration policies did not discourage that.

These international students bring major net benefits to our universities too, helping them to sustain many courses, including scientific and technical ones. They boost employment in our university cities and towns. They are a source of billions of pounds worth of invisible exports.

But, thanks in part to our restrictive visa policies, we are already losing market share to our main global competitors: the US, Australia, Canada and those other countries in the EU which are increasingly offering courses taught in English.

In a sensible, rational world you would expect any UK government to be doing its best to help our universities to regain market share and to strengthen an economic sector which could be a crucial contributor to our prosperity in the knowledge-based future in which we are going to be competing. But not at all. It is doing exactly the opposite – even now that the problem posed by dodgy language schools has been largely resolved and more soundly based immigration statistics show that only a very small number of those coming to the UK on education visas are illegal overstayers.

So we continue to treat international students as economic migrants for public policy purposes. This is surely nonsensical when they bring into this country substantial financial resources and provide employment up and down the UK. We harass those who come here on education visas, often deporting them without due cause. And we limit their access after graduation to our job market – the government’s latest Immigration Bill, currently before Parliament, offers an inadequate potential duration to extend their stay. And now it appears we are preparing to discourage EU students from studying here, as they have been doing in increasing numbers over recent years. It really is a Mad Hatters Tea Party.

What needs to be done? Well, the Immigration Bill really does need radical amendment along the lines of a cross-party initiative, backed by several former higher education ministers including Jo Johnson, which would provide for longer post-graduate work opportunities. We need to ban, in statute, continuing to treat students as economic migrants, thus ending the threat that including them in some arbitrary numerical target for immigration will damage the higher education sector.

Finally, we need to remember that, were we to decide after all to stay in the EU, this will bring with it major benefits for our universities and research centres. This government’s post-Brexit plans for international students did not exist in 2016. Now we know more about how a Brexit future will damage our universities, the people deserve to have the final say.

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Edited by Luke Lythgoe

5 Responses to “Post-Brexit student rules will degrade our universities”

  • You may well be technically right about UK universities being ranked second after the USA but many are already in deep trouble with dramatically falling student numbers(Not just from the EU),staff leaving and/or redundancies, huge debts and many many concerns about falling standards . UK governments have introduced and ramped up fees, with the quid pro quo that students are consumers and want to get what they paid for. I would notyecommend any child of mine went to a UK university-the NSS results for students satisfaction are often dire and you can study in some many European and other states in English. Why pay these crazy fees and have a bad experience? The real concern ism however, falling standards.

  • There seems to be no end to the self harm being inflicted on the UK by the present government. What is even more strange is the apparent indifference to this fact by so many in the UK. It would seem that we are doomed to have Brexit, leave with the disastrous consequences that we know will result and then what ? Realise we should never have left in the first place ? All very sad for the UK, blinded by its glorious past to be able accept the realities of its new position in the world.

  • I know that a number of U.K. students are attending university in the Netherlands where many degree courses are taught in English and the fees are much lower. I wonder if this option will be available if the dreaded Brexit happens. The fees in the U.K. are a disgrace. Who wants to start their career with debts of £30,000?

  • Why do so many in the government not understand that the education here of students from other EU countries is an export, promotes future exports and improves the education of the British students who mix with them?

  • Too many universities with too many non-degrees. We need more apprenticeship and vocational training particularly if we ever actually leave this dreadful EU club and look to re-adjust our economy to greater manufacturing reliance. The main problem facing this country is the utter incompetence within management of large organisations and institutions due to the bringing in of self interested management consultants (could that be why productivity and wages are low while employment appears to be high?). Just like UK politicians who use the excuse that EU rules stop them taking responsibility for policies, this management class blame their workforce for anything wrong and award themselves huge pay and bonuses for anything that (appears) to be success. The most appealing part for me of leaving the EU is that all of our so called leaders will be exposed as not up to standard and a long overdue clear out will be required for us to truly exploit our future opportunities. Hopefully eventually higher education will again be funded by the tax payer who will see that university education is once again of great benefit to our nation.