Yorkshire universities call for answers as Brexit inquiry is launched

A MAJOR inquiry into the affect of Brexit on higher education is to be launched today as leading Yorkshire universities called for action to safeguard the future of current students and those thinking of applying to the region.

Photo: Chris Ison/PA Wire
Photo: Chris Ison/PA Wire

The Education Select Committee said that MPs will look at what protections should be put in place for EU students in Britain and what can be done to sure UK universities remain competitive after the country leaves the European Union.

It comes as a separate think-tank report published today warns that planning for Brexit could cost the Government £65m a year and involve hiring at least 500 civil servants.

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Yorkshire’s leading Russell Group universities welcomed the MPs inquiry and said answers were needed for existing staff and students.

Sheffield University’s director of strategy, planning and change Dr Tony Strike said: “While an Education Select Committee inquiry is welcome we are concerned about the time taken as we have immediate issues. For example, non-UK EU students joining programmes in 2016 and 2017 need to know what guarantee can be given that they can retain their EU fee status for the duration of their studies. We need clarity quickly on the right of our 550 non-UK EU staff to remain without time limit – to help them make life affecting decisions, and encourage them to stay.”

Both Sheffield and York University said that the free movement of staff and student should be prioritised. and they called for UK universities to have access to EU research funding.

A statement from York University said: “We are asking Government to ensure the continued free mobility of staff and students. The University would also like the Government to ensure UK Universities continue to have access to EU research funding, networks and programmes for staff and students (such as ERASMUS)”

“Just as importantly, the University of York believes the Government should promote the UK as a welcoming climate for international students from all over the world and maintain the UK’s global outlook.”

A recent report revealed that eight major universities in the North - including Leeds, Sheffield and York - receive EU research funding worth £127m a year.

Calling for evidence Education Select Committee chairman Neil Carmichael said: “There are fears that Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union will have a negative impact on higher education. Concerns range from being able to attract the brightest students from across Europe to making sure UK universities maintain their places among the world’s best.”

Leeds University’s vice chancellor Sir Alan Langlands said: “We welcome this important inquiry and the opportunity to help shape the priorities and opportunities as we enter negotiations with the EU. Home to some of the brightest and best minds from across Europe, Leeds is an international university in a city that is compassionate and outward looking, and our determination to attract and welcome talented students and staff remains undiminished.”

In June this year following the referendum result Universities Minister Jo Johnson said that EU students who are eligible to receive loans and grants from the Student Loans Company will continue to do so for courses they are currently enrolled on or about to start this coming year and EU students will continue to receive funding for the duration of their courses.

A separate report said that Brexit planning could cost the Government £65m a year but time is being “wasted” on “political squabbles and turf wars”, a new report warns.

The paper criticises Prime Minister Theresa May’s “silence” on her negotiating position for leaving the European Union, which it says is “unsettling” for business and “perplexing” for countries the UK faces negotiating with.

In the absence of a clearly articulated Government strategy, off-the-cuff remarks are filling the void, the report by the Institute for Government think-tank warns.

While the decision to split responsibility for Brexit between three departments - the Foreign Office, the Department for Exiting the EU, and the Department for International Trade - risks “fragmentation and incoherence”, according to the report.

Dividing power between the so-called three Brexiteers, Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox, risks squabbles and infighting between the triumvirate, the institute warns.

The report, Planning For Brexit: Silence Is Not A Strategy, states: “This triple departmental structure risks creating fragmentation and incoherence, and a lack of clarity about the roles and responsibilities of the new departments has caused distractions and delayed work on Brexit.

A Government spokesman said: “Our departure from the EU represents a new chapter for Britain and we’re confident of getting a good deal for the whole country, which makes the most of the new freedoms Brexit will afford us.

“Since the referendum, the Prime Minister has put the machinery of government behind getting the best deal, creating a dedicated Department for Exiting the EU and a Department for International Trade.”