OPINION: Corbyn and May threaten British universities

by Jack Holliss

Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May pose quite possibly the most significant threat to the future of British higher education in a generation. The two main parties both seek the same form of hard Brexit – while one is held hostage by her party the other chooses to impose his hard-line beliefs upon it. Whatever their reasons however, they both want the same thing: an end to freedom of movement, an end to generous research funding from the EU, and an end to the exchange programmes that so many British and European students benefit from.

British universities risk losing an eye-watering 15-20% of their research funding, and the effects of this on our institutions in the long-term are simply unimaginable. But this doesn’t just hurt universities, it hurts people. Every British 18-year-old will lose the right to study in a European nation of their choosing, to enrich themselves with knowledge and immerse themselves in a foreign culture, while Europeans coming to British universities will face higher international fee rates, and in all likelihood lose access to government grants. To surmise that foreign student totals are going to fall is no great leap.

Universities UK calculated that between 2012 and 2013, EU nationals encompassed 5.5 percent of the total UK student population, contributing £3.7 billion to the UK economy and providing 34,000 jobs. The totals at the time of the Brexit vote are likely to have been even higher. Yet how do we reward them for their contribution to this country? We raise their fees, we take their grants, we make them feel unwelcome.

To highlight the attitude of this country towards foreign students, we need only look at the immigration rhetoric of the last few years. For reasons unbeknown to just about everyone, foreign students coming to the UK to receive an education – roughly 100,000 of them each year – are included in immigration figures. Both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn have committed themselves to significantly reducing net migration into this country to placate their party bases. It’s just such a shame they seem to have chosen students as their first target. If young, intelligent people eager to learn and contribute are the kind of immigrants we don’t want in this country, what does that say about the state of the nation?

Other parties are hindered from speaking out about this by their size. Of the major parties, while the Liberal Democrats may not be seen as the go to defenders of students and universities, they are the only one to oppose a Brexit that will gut university funding, and turn eager young students away on the basis of nationality. With only 12 seats, their power is limited – but there is hope: greater influence comes in the form of increased polling support, and the subsequent increased coverage it would garner for them.

While Remain supporters are increasingly throwing their weight behind the Lib Dems, however, after it has become so clear that the Conservatives and Labour are committed to an extreme Brexit party, that move will be gradual. In the meantime, the Brexit being imposed from on high will be a nightmare for British universities, and it is a scandal that this is going on without penetrating into political discourse at all.

Jack Holliss is a student at the University of Lancaster

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