Human Resources

House of Commons Education Committee inquiry into the impact of Brexit on higher education:

(written submission from the University of Portsmouth, University of Southampton and Southampton Solent University)

Executive summary

1. We believe that it is important for the UK Government to help universities be fully prepared for Britain’s exit from the EU and to be given opportunities to benefit from it.

2. UK universities are world-leaders and make a significant contribution to the UK economy and society. Through research, innovation, teaching and learning higher education is a major contributor to UK plc and its industrial and skills strategies.

3. Through access to research and innovation funding, to multiple opportunities for collaboration, and to a wide pool of high quality researchers and students, the EU has played a vital role in the global standing of UK science and research and has benefited the UK’s capacity in higher-level skills and improved productivity.

4. Post-Brexit we look for opportunities to preserve and enhance our status.

We believe that the Government’s priorities during negotiations to exit the EU, and beyond, should be:

5. To provide opportunities and support for the creation and maintenance of international research networks.

6. To recognize that UK universities operate in an international and very competitive market. If UK universities are to maintain our status and deliver benefits to the country and our communities we must be given the opportunities to operate with the same rules as our competitors, in particular the USA and Australia.

7. This requires the ability to obtain funding for international research collaborations; to recruit highly-qualified staff – from wherever we find them; to recruit students internationally; and to offer opportunities to UK students to study abroad for a period of their degree and to study in the UK within an internationally-diverse group of fellow students.

Profile, Mission and Impact

8. Our universities have chosen to make a collective submission because, as universities with different profiles and from different mission groups, a collective submission better demonstrates the university sector’s shared interests and concerns around Brexit.

9. The University of Portsmouth is a member of the University Alliance, the University of Southampton a member of the Russell Group, and Southampton Solent University is a member of MillionPlus.

10. In the 2017 Guardian league table the University of Southampton is ranked 16th, the University of Portsmouth is ranked 43rd, and Southampton Solent University is ranked 100th.

11. Southampton University also features amongst the top 100 universities in the world in the QS World Rankings.

12. In addition, Solent University delivered the fourth highest number of continuing professional development/continuing education learner days (116482) in the UK higher education sector and was ranked in the top 20 for revenue from these activities, with £9.8 million from CPD in 2014/15.

13. Collectively, our universities have over 55000 students (including over 46000 undergraduates). Over one-fifth of our student body are non-UK citizens, 6.4% of which are (non-UK) EU students.

14. We employ over 11000 staff, 20% of which are non-UK EU or international staff. 11% of our staff are non-UK EU citizens.

15. Through our core and indirect activities (such as student and staff expenditure) our universities produce significant economic benefits to the wider economy. For instance, in 2012/13, it was estimated that the University of Southampton supports economic activity in Southampton of more than £729 million (gross valued added – GVA) and 11700 jobs. In the regional area the equivalent figures are over £1 billion GVA and over 16300 jobs; and nationally the figures are over £2 billion GVA and over 26500 jobs.

EU students studying in England

16. EU students contribute a great deal to UK universities and the wider economy. Our universities benefit greatly from collaboration, from freedom of movement of students and staff, and from the pool of academic excellence and expertise that is available across Europe. The loss or disruption of these benefits will have a significant effect on our institutions, our staff and students, and would undoubtedly reduce the international standing and appeal of our universities.

17. It is because of the influx and volume of EU and international students, particularly at postgraduate level, that many of our taught courses are viable. This has many benefits for domestic students who otherwise would have fewer course and degree options available.

18. For instance, Southampton Solent University’s Yacht and Powercraft Design BEng (Hons) is typically populated by a majority of non-British EU students – currently the figure is 56%. This course is internationally renowned. A previous graduate has designed yachts which won the Vendee Globe event.

19. The viability of courses like Yacht and Powercraft Design are important to companies working in the Solent maritime sector. Without such courses, they would find it more difficult to recruit highly-skilled employees.

20. EU students also increase and improve the diversity on our campuses and so help UK students develop. The Higher Education Policy Institute reported in June 2016 that UK students believe that studying alongside students from outside the UK improves their world-view and helps prepare them for a global employment market.

21. Due to the uncertainty around access to financial support we are deeply concerned about a fall in EU student numbers in light of Brexit, and a loss of competitive advantage to universities in Germany and the Netherlands which already offer courses delivered in English. The first statistical release by UCAS on 26 October 2016 shows that early applicants from the EU for entry in 2017 have fallen by 9%. This ends a trend of annual increases over recent years.

22. It must be emphasised that student decision-making is not just a one year cycle. In many cases and across many countries we are working to three-plus year cycles. For instance, the UK is now experiencing a fall in student numbers due to visa policy changes made two-plus years ago.

23. Consideration must also be given to the value of Erasmus exchanges and their influence on students from EU universities who often use their semester’s or year’s experience at a UK university to decide whether they would like to return for a Postgraduate Taught programme. Any restrictive visas or loss of funding could mean the loss of those students returning to UK universities in future.

24. Any decision to limit EU students’ rights to study in the UK before the UK leaves the EU would be open to legal challenge.

25. At some stage there will be new arrangements for EU students, which might see them treated as international students in terms of both visas and fees. Whatever the final position, it is vital that transitional arrangements are put in place for different types of students with different circumstances, to minimise losses to UK universities.

26. In light of this, we see little to be lost and much to be gained from the UK government confirming now that all EU students who apply to study in the UK before the UK leaves the EU will be treated as home students for the entirety of their degree programmes.

Existing EU staff

27. Highly talented EU staff contribute a great deal to the success, and international reputation, of UK universities. In some subject areas they account for 30% of academic staff.

28. The uncertainty around their future is affecting their quality of life and causing some to take opportunities in other parts of the EU despite their preference to remain in the UK.

29. It is very unlikely that Brexit negotiations will affect the rights of existing EU staff to work and remain in the UK. Any attempt to reduce their rights would be legally challengeable.

30. Access to European research programmes and collaborations has traditionally been an incentive for staff recruits from outside the EU. Additionally, many of the PhD students from the EU stay on to become post-doctoral students or staff. Students’ rights to stay to become staff and their rights as staff will impact on our ability to teach our students well and produce world-class research.

31. In light of this, we see significant benefit from confirming now that the rights of existing EU staff will remain the same post-Brexit. This will help to preserve the UK’s status as a powerhouse of scientific excellence, second only to the USA.

Risks and opportunities for UK students

32. Studying abroad, for at least a period of their degree, improves students’ human capital and, through access to diverse networks, their social capital. Leaving the EU will make it more difficult for UK students to spend at least some part of their degree abroad, in particular through the loss of Erasmus+ support. This will have serious impacts on their employability.

33. For the same reason that studying abroad improves UK students’ human and social capital, EU and international students on UK university campuses benefit UK students. The loss of Erasmus+ funding will reduce the diversity on UK campuses and so affect UK students’ experience and human and social capital formation.

34. Many UK students want to study abroad in non-EU countries, in part because some of the world’s best universities are outside the EU. There is therefore an opportunity for any replacement for Erasmus+ student exchange schemes to provide students with the opportunity to study in non-EU countries. This would enhance the range of opportunities for UK students and demonstrate the commitment of the UK to increase our influence and standing in the world post-Brexit.

UK universities’ competitiveness

35. Restrictions on freedom of movement reduce the ability of UK academics to build international research networks. International networks are particularly important for the production of the highest-quality research and UK academics currently do well by this measure. Over half of papers by British academics are co-authored with someone from outside the UK.

36. EU research funding helps build research networks. For instance, the University of Southampton welcomes an average of five EU Marie Curie (post-doctoral) Fellows to the University each year. Many of these have chosen to remain at the University and pursue successful careers. Those who leave form the basis of future successful research networks across Europe and the wider world.

37. For programmes such as Erasmus and the research framework programmes, the EU has provided a relatively straightforward way for UK universities to connect internationally. These programmes have lower administrative overheads than the overheads associated with bilateral collaborations.

38. The potential loss or reduction of access to this funding stream presents a substantial challenge for UK universities. For instance, Southampton University has a long history of successful involvement in EU Framework programmes. In FP7, the University was awarded 318 successful projects worth €125 million. The University’s engagement in Horizon 2020 has so far resulted in 74 projects awarded or in negotiation, worth €48.9 million.

39. If universities are no longer able to access EU funding, alternative funding opportunities through national channels are needed in order to maintain the world-leading position of the UK science and innovation base.

40. Increasing the budget for the Research Councils within an overall larger UK science budget is specifically needed to strengthen the UK’s global position, boost the economy and help UK universities to remain internationally competitive.

41. UK universities’ world class research reputation is dependent on our ability to recruit the best staff from anywhere. For instance, the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation is the University of Portsmouth’s leading research area. In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) 96% of its Physics research outputs were judged world-leading or internationally excellent. The Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation has more (non-UK) EU staff than UK staff.

42. Access to EU research funding has enabled the University of Southampton to engage in pan-European projects that have accelerated the development of new knowledge and innovation. In the summer of 2016, the University of Southampton joined a large new pan-European project involving companies and universities from 15 European countries that will seek to improve software safety and security for aerospace, automotive, railway and maritime systems.

43. Other valuable research also requires collaboration with EU partners. For example, along with nine EU partners, Southampton Solent’s School of Art, Design and Fashion has developed the ‘VIVID’ [Value added through Visual Design] network. The partners come from education, commerce and local government. Together, they work to promote the potential of visual design and visual technology. The project has developed significant research and knowledge about the relationships between the visual design industries and the heritage industries and has provided these industries with fresh, innovative and professional solutions to audience engagement.

44. If it becomes more difficult to recruit EU staff the quality of some degree programmes will fall and others will become unviable. For instance, the delivery of a large number of languages programmes is dependent on EU staff’s expertise. The University of Portsmouth’s School of Languages and Area Studies has 30% EU staff. Currently, the UK is not producing sufficient numbers of language experts to replace the number of staff needed. For instance, the number of applicants placed through UCAS on to European language and literature courses in 2016/17 was down 7.8% year-on-year.

45. If UK universities cannot recruit enough language specialists to run language courses there will be wider economic consequences. Language barriers act as a constraint on UK companies’ ability to export goods and services.

46. International league tables, which are very important for UK universities’ reputations, include measures about the degree to which universities are international. The QS World University Rankings assesses universities’ success in recruiting international staff and students. The Times Higher World Rankings include the percentage of international students at an institution (where this is students originating from outside the country of the university).

47. If it becomes difficult for UK universities to recruit and retain international staff and students, the sector will become less globally competitive, its export earnings will fall, and the wider UK economy will be damaged.

Recommendations for action for Government

48. Through its actions, the Government can and should demonstrate its support for the UK university sector. The UK university sector is world-leading, it delivers significant export earnings, as well as wider economic and social benefits, and it is one of the most internationally visible features of UK society.

49. The Government demonstrating its support for the UK university sector would be one of the easiest ways to demonstrate that the UK remains a global, outward-facing, open economy.

50. Failing to support the UK university sector would give the opposite message to investors and other countries.

The Government can demonstrate its support for the UK university sector by:

51. Announcing now that all EU staff currently employed by universities will be free to remain in the UK post-Brexit.

52. Announcing now that all EU students who apply for a place at a UK university before the UK leaves the EU will qualify for the same financial support as home students for the entire period of their study.

53. Provide financial support to enable short-term visits by UK academics to the EU and other countries to build research networks. The Government should also provide similar funds for international academics to visit the UK. The visa regime should be adjusted to enable this to happen.

54. Implementing a visa regime that enables UK universities to recruit high quality staff from any part of the globe. This would benefit UK universities’ research, UK undergraduates’ student experience and, through this, the wider UK economy and society.

55. Provide financial support to enable students who want to spend part of their degree programme at an overseas institution (within the EU or outside). This could be funded wholly or in part from the savings made when EU students ceases to be eligible for tuition fee loans.