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UCU tells MPs that Brexit and anti-immigration rhetoric are damaging UK higher education

25 January 2017

There is real concern about the damage being done to higher education by Brexit, but also from government rhetoric on immigration, (UCU general secretary Sally Hunt told an influential group of MPs today (Wednesday).

Giving evidence to the education select committee on a session looking at Brexit's impact on higher education, Sally said she felt that too often higher education policy was being made in the Home Office, rather than the Department for Education, with disastrous consequences.

She said staff and students who have contributed to the UK's success deserve better than to be used as pawns in negotiations about the UK's future. She also highlighted the damage headlines suggesting the UK does not welcome international students can do around the world.

In her speech last week the Prime Minister indicated that she wanted EU nationals to have the right to remain in Britain, but refused to give a guarantee. Sally said instead of trying to pass the responsibility onto other countries yet to offer reciprocal deals, the Prime Minister should act now to reassure the thousands of EU staff working in UK universities that they will be able to remain in the country.

Sally touched on a wide range of subjects covered in the union's submission to the committee. She also referenced recent polling from YouGov for UCU that revealed that:

  • 42% of academics - and three-quarters (76%) of non-UK EU academics - said they were more likely to consider leaving UK higher education following the Brexit vote
  • A third (29%) of respondents said they already know of academics leaving the UK
  • An overwhelming majority (90%) said they think Brexit will have a negative impact on the UK higher education sector

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'Higher education is international in its nature and our universities are one of the UK's great success stories. Staff and students who have contributed to the UK's success deserve better than to be used as pawns in negotiations about the UK's future.

'We are not alone in raising concerns about the damage being caused by Brexit and the type of rhetoric being used by politicians on immigration. It is naive to believe that those comments do not make their way around the world or have any impact on how we are viewed abroad.

'The Prime Minister should act now and give EU staff the reassurance that they will be able to stay in the UK after we leave the EU. As well as being the right thing to do, with three-quarters of EU academics saying they are thinking of quitting the UK following the Brexit result, it is in our strategic interests to do so.'

Last updated: 31 January 2017