On 13 March, the House of Lords passed the following amendment to the HE Bill by 313 votes to 219.
150: After Clause 85, insert the following new Clause—
“Students and academic staff at higher education providers
(1) The Secretary of State has a duty to encourage international students to attend higher education providers covered by this Act, and UKRI must take every possible opportunity to encourage and facilitate the maximum co-operation between British higher education and research establishments and those based outside the UK, in particular with projects and programmes funded by the European Union.
(2) The Secretary of State shall ensure that no student, either undergraduate or postgraduate, who has received an offer to study at such a higher education provider, be treated for public policy purposes as a long term migrant to the UK, for the duration of their studies at such an establishment.
(3) Persons, who are not British citizens, who receive an offer to study as an undergraduate or postgraduate, or who receive an offer of employment as a member of academic staff at a higher education provider, shall not, in respect of that course of study, or that employment, be subject to more restrictive immigration controls or conditions than were in force for a person in their position on the day on which this Act was passed.”
As Lord Hannay, proposing, explained:-
In summary, the amendment, first, places a duty on the Secretary of State to encourage overseas students to come here for their higher education.
Secondly, it urges UKRI, the new organisation co-ordinating research, to encourage and facilitate the maximum international research co-operation, in particular with EU projects and programmes, which may be less easy to do after Brexit than it has been as a full member—which we still are.
Thirdly, it seeks to put an end to the policy of treating students for public policy purposes as long-term economic migrants. This subject has been debated many times in the House without anyone, except the lonely person on the ministerial Bench, expressing a contrary view.
Fourthly, it seeks to ensure that no further restrictive immigration rules, beyond those that currently exist, are placed on undergraduate and postgraduate students with the offer of a place to study here, or on academic staff with an offer of employment. I underline the word “offer” because it is not intended that they should have free movement rights to come here and look for these things; they would need to have the offer.
Universities are nothing if not international. Academic research collaborations in every discipline cross international borders. And students cross borders to attend universities in the UK.
International students currently bring in £25.8bn income to the UK and support an estimated 0.2m UK jobs (according to Oxford Economics on behalf of UUK). But they are also the next generation of academics: this year’s graduate may be next year’s PhD candidate and a decade later, a close academic collaborator fostering links between universities and commerce.