I am very concerned about the effect of Brexit on our university sector and recently raised this issue at Prime Minister’s Questions.

I appreciate that the result of the referendum has raised uncertainty over the future rights of EU nationals living and working in the UK, and of UK nationals in the EU, particularly following comments made by Government Ministers which have suggested that this matter will form part of the EU-UK negotiations. The Opposition have raised this issue on a number of occasions with the Government in the House of Commons.

Following the EU referendum result, particular concerns have been raised by UK Universities and Colleges about the potential impact of leaving the EU on staff, students and research. I appreciate that the university and college sector is facing considerable uncertainty. Staff and students from the EU make a vital contribution to our universities and colleges and I believe that to throw any doubt over the right of EU nationals to remain here in the future not only undermines family life, but the stability of our public services, our economy and our society.

While the Government has confirmed that EU students applying for university places in the 2017-2018 academic year will still have access to student funding support for the duration of their course, on 4 October 2016 the Home Secretary announced plans to hold a consultation on ‘the next steps needed to control immigration’. She said this will involve looking at student immigration rules, and also indicated it will be look at tougher rules for students on what she called ‘lower quality courses’. I am concerned that shutting the door to international students will not help reduce young people’s tuition fee debts but will instead foster division and discrimination in our communities. I would like to see the Government take action to tackle the real impact of migration, rather than turning people against each other.

At present, UK Universities receive 10% (just over £1 billion a year) of their research funding from the EU. It is concerning that Times Higher Education has said that 18 UK institutions face losing more than half of their research funding as a result of the decision to leave the EU. I am therefore pleased that my Shadow Frontbench colleagues have called on the Government to press for continued access to the Horizon 2020 programme, so that UK universities can stay at the top of the list across Europe for the allocation of research and innovation grants, and continue to work in collaboration with their counterparts in other European universities.

I can assure you I will be following developments very closely and will continue to hold the Government to account on these vital issues and, more widely, on its plan for leaving the EU.

Published 19/10/2016

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