By Hugo Harris
University groups have reacted positively to Theresa May’s major speech on Brexit only a week after a panel of vice-chancellors warned that a so-called hard Brexit could trigger the ‘biggest disaster’ for the university sector in many years.
Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK (UUK) was pleased to hear of the Prime Minister’s assurances that the UK would continue to be open to international talent.“It was good to hear her talking about the international strength of our university system and the importance of continuing to collaborate in cutting-edge research and innovation.”
She stated: “It was good to hear her talking about the international strength of our university system and the importance of continuing to collaborate in cutting-edge research and innovation.”
Director General of the Russell Group, Dr. Wendy Piatt, also praised May: “The Prime Minister rightly recognises that the mobility of talent, the collaborations and critical mass of research activity we enjoy with the EU is crucial to underpinning the UK as a world-leading economy.”
Whilst delivering her keynote speech setting out the UK’s strategy for the Brexit negotiations, Theresa May stood behind a pedestal alluding to her vision of a “global Britain”.
She was keen to emphasise this point in the speech itself, saying: “I want Britain to be what we have the potential, talent and ambition to be. A great, global trading nation.”
This was despite the fact she confirmed the UK would be leaving the single market.
The previous week, however, the House of Commons Education Committee was briefed on the potential dangers of a ‘hard Brexit’.
Alistair Fitt, Vice-Chancellor of Oxford Brookes University, was the most forceful with his words.
He told the Committee that if the Government does choose a hard Brexit that entails a major cut to immigration, it could spell “the biggest disaster for the university sector in many years.”
The head of Brexit strategy at the University of Oxford, Alistair Buchanan, noted that with a hard Brexit “you risk damaging one of your best industries, which is the knowledge-based economy in this country.”
Buchanan added that with the ascendancy of China and India as educational powerhouses “we need to be very careful that we negotiate the kind of openness that academic [life] is all about”.
Recently it was revealed that Brexit was already having detrimental effects on UK higher education.
Cambridge University had seen a 14% drop in applications from across the continent for undergraduate courses since the EU referendum.
MPs at the Committee meeting were informed that hostility towards immigrants, the devaluation of the pound and concerns over research funding have all discouraged postgraduates thinking about heading to the UK.
It was estimated that a significant fall in EU students deciding to study in the UK would cost the economy more than £690 million per year.
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