Universities could face the ‘biggest disaster’ in higher education for many years if the Government pursues a so-called hard Brexit, Oxford Brookes’ top academic has warned.
Vice-chancellor Professor Alistair Fitt issued the warning to the House of Commons Education Committee when it met at Pembroke College yesterday.
MPs were told that foreign academics living here were considering leaving the country, with the Government warned to act ‘immediately’ to reassure them that they would be allowed to remain in the UK.
Professor Fitt said: “It [hard Brexit] would probably be the biggest disaster for the universities sector in many years.”
Coventry University vice-chancellor John Latham said it would make
British universities ‘extremely uncompetitive.’
Since Britain voted last June to leave the EU the Government has not guaranteed citizens of other EU countries that they will be able to remain in the UK.
President of the Engineering Professors’ Council, Professor Stephanie Haywood, urged the Government to clarify the situation.
She said: “Colleagues are coming to me and saying ‘I am thinking of leaving the country’, because their wife is foreign or their children do not have British passports.
“We need to sort it out one way or another.
“It is not just the staff we employ who are affected, it is their families.”
Regius professor of history at Oxford University, Professor Lyndal Roper, said: “I am hearing the same kinds of things.
“We need immediately some kind of reassurance.
“In Russell Group universities 20 per cent of our staff are from EU countries.
“This is really, really important because we do not want to lose the international people.
“It is a real worry and clarity would be welcome.”
The Education Committee is taking evidence across the country about the impact of Brexit on higher education, and will visit the North East and London before reporting back in spring.
MPs were told that applications from EU countries had already dropped by 14 per cent at Cambridge University, and were urged to make sure that students and academics still had the right to come here to study after Brexit.
Prof Haywood said: “I would like to see the higher education sector removed from any limits on freed of movement.
“Perhaps a very specific thing would be if EU students become ‘international’ students they would count towards immigration targets.
“It is very important that students are removed from immigration targets, if not the figures.”
London School of Economics academic Dr Anne Corbett added that the Government needed to focus on providing an ‘intelligent Brexit’, and that ‘significant amounts of money’ should be put aside for higher education.
She said: “Perhaps that £350m a week we were told about.
“We will not deliver what is being talked about without a commitment to serious funding.”
Speaking after the meeting committee chairman Neil Carmichael MP told the Oxford Mail he agreed about the need for clarity on the status of EU academics.
He said: “We need clarity and we need it soon on this particular matter.”