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Establishing UK HE’s place in the world post-Brexit

Universities UK chief executive Alistair Jarvis sets out what the sector needs from a post-Brexit settlement.
This article is more than 5 years old

Alistair Jarvis is Pro Vice Chancellor (Partnerships and Governance) at the University of London.

Brexit creates very significant challenges and uncertainty for universities. To deliver maximum benefit to British people, to support local communities and fuel a successful economy, we need a Brexit settlement that enables universities to deliver the greatest possible positive impact.

Universities can thrive post-Brexit. However, we need the right support from government to do this. Government needs to deliver on four policy priorities:

  • An ambitious international education strategy
  • An immigration system that recognises the value of international staff and students
  • Support to grow international research collaboration, and
  • Support to grow outward student mobility

International education

We need policy change that recognises the positive impact of international students to the economy, society, universities and international relations.

A comprehensive international education strategy is needed to grow the number of international students. This should include improvements to post-study work visas so graduates can live and work in the UK for a defined period following graduation, to make us more competitive in the international student market.

This should be coupled with a significant and sustained international campaign to encourage international students to choose the UK as their preferred study destination, counteracting the less than welcoming impression of recent years

Immigration system

We must ensure the promises made on confirmation of settled status for EU nationals working at universities are met through a smooth, simple and timely process.

We need an immigration system that enables students to enter the UK to study with minimal barriers and universities to recruit talented staff with minimal bureaucracy. The current tier 2 and tier 4 visa arrangements need urgent reform. They are deterring international talent from outside the EU in making a decision to come to the UK.

This system is not suitable for EEA nationals post-Brexit. It would make it much harder for UK universities to attract talented European staff and students that contribute so much to our campus communities, our research, our teaching and our economy.

Research collaboration

As part of our future relationship with the EU, the UK Government should aim to secure access to the Horizon Europe research and innovation programme, ensuring that it maintains a focus on excellence.

European research programmes enable access to a multinational, pooled financial resource that is essential for collaboration – and incentivises it. The programme offers globally-recognised prestige, enabling access and exposure to networks and contacts that encourage further collaboration. It also provides a single framework for collaboration, and operates within a common regulatory framework.

It provides a ready-made platform for collaborating with world-leading experts on life-changing research, with knock-on benefits for the economy, society and individuals in the UK.

Access to European research programmes will allow universities to collaborate with the best minds from across Europe. However we should also look beyond Europe to develop global research partnerships as well.

Future free trade agreements will present opportunities to enhance international collaboration on research and education. The university sector needs to be clear about what the priorities are for each country the UK government may seek to enter into a free trade agreement with.

Outward student mobility

UK students and staff need to pursue international experiences that directly benefit their academic performance and their wider employability, while enabling them to build international networks. Building international experience will be an important way of growing the skills and experience necessary for the UK to be a global trading nation.

Erasmus+ is vital to UK outward mobility, responsible for around 55% of all current international exchanges involving UK students. The government should negotiate access to the Erasmus+ programme from 2021. The economies of scale the programme offers and the strong brand recognition demonstrates means it offers significant added value to UK universities and students. It would be extremely challenging to replicate through a national replacement scheme or a series of bilateral partnerships. We need to both maintain access to Erasmus and grow new mobility partnerships beyond Erasmus.

Our universities are vital for a successful post-Brexit UK economy and society. They deserve the right support from government to ensure that they can thrive.

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