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Preserve freedom of movement for EU students, say MPs report

A new report calls on the next government to remove students from net migration targets & unilaterally guarantee the rights of EU citizens in the UK.


The House of Commons Education select committee has warned that Brexit risked a “damaging brain drain” from UK universities. The BBC reports that one in six academic staff in the UK comes from the rest of the EU. And as in other sectors including healthcare, the vote to leave and ongoing uncertainty over the rights of EU citizens living in the UK has led to many consider leaving. But the risks aren’t just limited to retaining people we already have. Brexit is also negatively impacting Britain’s appeal with university admissions from the EU down.

Guarantee the EU citizens rights by the end of 2017

In its report, the committee make a number of recommendations with a unilateral guarantee to protect the rights of EU citizens living in the UK at the top. The report also suggests guaranteeing the 2018/19 student cohort by securing the same fees and tuition loan access to create short-term stability.

Preserve freedom of movement for EU students & remove students from net migration target

As well as recommending that international students be removed from net migration targets, the report suggests that a system “closely resembling freedom of movement” is the best model for EU students. Here’s the point in full from the report:

We believe the best model for EU students is to retain a reciprocal open approach with light touch controls, such as visa-free access, which would enable preservation of a system closely resembling freedom of movement.

We recommend the government takes this open approach with all international students if it is serious in its desire for the UK to remain a global leader in higher education.

House of Commons Education Select committee: Address staffing, immigration and research concerns to protect UK universities

The report is careful to say that this is the best model for EU students. But it also says any new immigration system should “facilitate, rather than inhibit, the movement of people in and out of our universities”. The report suggests a new visa that is “more liberal than the Tier 2 route” could achieve this.

Continued participation to EU programmes

The committee also advocated the UK’s continued participation in EU programmes such as Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ as well as to match funding currently provided by the EU.

In a statement about the report, committee chair Neil Carmichael said “Brexit risks damaging our international competitiveness and the long-term success of our universities”. He added the government “must act urgently to address the uncertainty over EU staff and avert the risk of a damaging ‘brain drain of talent from our shores”.

You can find the full report including the chair’s statement at parliament.uk.

Where the government and opposition stand

As we have an election coming up, where do the two main parties stand? The Tory government has so far refused to take students out of the net migration target. It has also continued to insist that providing a unilateral guarantee to EU citizens would risk the rights of Brits living in the EU. This is despite there being no evidence to back this up whatsoever. Interestingly, this morning, Labour launched its new Brexit strategy with shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer saying that Labour was committed to doing both.

Starmer also said that Labour would push for Britain’s continued participation in Erasmus. You can see more on Labour’s new Brexit strategy in our earlier post. There are still areas in it that are unclear particularly with regard to the single market/free movement impasse. But Starmer appears to be suggesting that this is a “smart” and “flexible” approach. One that is better than the Tories’ “rigid” and reckless” approach to Brexit negotiations.

Speaking in Bridgend, Theresa May said that this is now Labour’s “seventh Brexit plan” and that it was “nonsensical”. But Labour has actually given us more of a plan than the Tories have. So far in this election, the government hasn’t given us anything new on Brexit. Instead, Theresa May appears to be banking on a weak opposition and favourable polls to give her a mandate that consists of a “blank cheque”.

A hard Brexit would be “biggest disaster” for universities

Crackdown on international students could cost UK £2bn a year

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