President of UUK and vice chancellor of the University of Kent, Dame Julia Goodfellow, urged the government to take immediate action to reassure EU students applying to study in 2017 that they would pay the same fees and access the same financial support throughout their studies and, therefore, “prevent a likely sudden decline in EU student applications”.
“This issue is urgent. UCAS applications opened yesterday for the 2017/18 intake and EU students are almost twice as likely as UK students to apply very early for those courses with October deadlines.”
“I’m working as fast as I can with colleagues in the Treasury, Number 10 and elsewhere to give you those further assurances that you’re seeking”
Universities and science minister, Jo Johnson, also present at the conference, acknowledged that the sector was making itself heard on the issue. “We know this is a burning, burning need to provide this clarity. All I can say is I’m working as fast as I can with colleagues in the Treasury, Number 10 and elsewhere to give you those further assurances that you’re seeking.”
Johnson acknowledged that many of these issues were tied up with the overall Brexit timetable although the issue of EU-funded research projects would be advanced by the Autumn Statement when the government will present economic forecasts and budget for the coming year.
Though Goodfellow struck a positive note overall when she told delegates that “like the government, [Universities UK has] a vision of a strong post-Brexit Britain with a thriving economy and a fairer society”, she had a number of further challenges for Theresa May’s new administration.
“The vote to leave the EU poses significant challenges for universities that we need to address, however, we believe that British universities can thrive post-exit with the right support from government.”
That support, Goodfellow said, involved a “long overdue” reformation of the immigration system so that the value of international students as temporary visitors was recognised and “to remove unnecessary barriers for highly-skilled international staff wanting to work at UK universities.”
In her previous role as home secretary, Theresa May said that too many overseas students were outstaying their study visas, however Johnson was prepared to concede to the conference delegates that the way in which these numbers are calculated (via the International Passenger Survey) required “a stronger evidence base…so universities can feel comfortable there is a solid policy basis for the measures being taken to address this question.”
“The vote to leave the EU poses significant challenges for universities that we need to address”
A report released by the Institute for Public Policy Research last week argues that by using the International Passenger Survey in its efforts to control immigration in recent years, the government could be overestimating the number who stay in the UK by tens of thousands.
Goodfellow also called for a new campaign to promote the UK’s higher education sector around the world, to ensure that its highly-respected status endured and that jobs and investment could be created.
“Universities support the UK’s soft power and global partnerships. Many leading international figures are alumni of British universities and our universities are globally connected with businesses, governments, research partners and other universities worldwide.”
Minister Johnson said the government would “of course seek to secure the best possible deal for universities so we can continue to form productive collaborations across Europe”.