Carol Monaghan MP has said that “major steps” are needed to protect the UK’s higher education and research sectors from the serious threat of Brexit.
The SNP’s Westminster Spokesperson for Education was speaking during the Queen’s Speech debate on Education and Local Services, and called on the Education Secretary to provide clarity and reassurance regarding the post-Brexit tuition fee status of EU students and that vital research funding is maintained and protected.
Monaghan, a former physics teacher, also called on the UK Government to reintroduce the Post-Study Work Visa scheme in Scotland, which enables international students to stay and contribute to our society and economy after they graduate.
Speaking during the debate, Monaghan said:
“We sit on the Brexit cliff edge with the constitutional future of the UK under question. How we proceed will determine the future economic success of these nations.
“I was expecting bold statements, clear direction and some reassurance to those in our higher education sector. Unfortunately, we have had none of that.
“I’ve spoken in this place on many occasions about the need to reintroduce the Post-Study Work Visa. This is a particular issue for Scotland. We get economic and cultural benefits from international students whilst they are here, but how much better would it be if we were able to have their expertise at work in our towns and cities.
“It seems that with this Queen’s Speech, immigration targets and xenophobia have overruled common economic sense. Net migration targets are more important than creating a climate for economic growth. Maybe it’s time for immigration powers to be devolved to Scotland.
“We still do not know which fee status that EU students will be subject to post-Brexit, and I am astounded that we still do not have answers to this most basic question. I fear that EU students will be considered ‘international students’ and will pay fees accordingly.
“It has been suggested by some Tory MPs that, post-Brexit would continue to come in the same pre-Brexit numbers. If EU students are asked to pay international fees, we will see this market disappear almost entirely. It will become the reserve of the rich and privileged of Europe.
“In Scotland, access to higher education is based on the ability to learn – never the ability to pay. We apply that to our EU students as well.
“I would urge the Secretary of State to be an advocate for our EU students and to push for a deal which will not preclude young people from Europe studying in the UK.
“EU funding ensures collaboration across multiple institutions. This funding means that a tapestry is woven, with each institution able to provide their particular expertise in the area. The funding is, of course, important, but it’s the collaboration that makes the magic happen. To lose this collaboration will be a blow to our research base.
“Whatever happens during the Brexit negotiations, our research community, their collaborations and their free movement must be protected.
“Brexit is now a serious threat to our higher education, research and science community and we need to be taking major steps now to ensure that this is protected during all negotiations.”