LONDON — The government must grant European students the right of free movement in the UK for the country to remain a “global leader,” a committee of MPs said.
The House of Commons education committee, a cross-party group, said restrictions on incoming students could see the UK lose out.
“We believe the best model for EU students is to retain a reciprocal open approach with light touch controls, such as visa-free access, which would enable preservation of a system closely resembling freedom of movement,” the committee said in a report published on Tuesday.
“We recommend the Government takes this open approach with all international students if it is serious in its desire for the UK to remain a global leader in higher education,” the MPs said, adding that students should be removed from the net migration target.
“The Government’s refusal to do so is putting at risk the higher education sector’s share of the international student market.”
University staff should also be guaranteed rights to reside in the UK, or the country’s universities would lose out to competitors when trying to attract top professors to Britain.
“We caution that a delay in confirming these rights will only intensify the current uncertainty for universities, and likely lead to a significant ‘brain drain’ in talented staff,” the committee said. “The Government must be prepared to unilaterally agree the rights of EU nationals before the end of 2017 if a reciprocal deal is not agreed before then.”
Students from the European Union appear to have been put off from studying in the UK following last year’s Brexit vote.
The number of applications to UK universities from students in the European Union has shrunk by 7% in the wake of the Brexit vote, according to figures from UCAS. EU applications are down to 42,070 from 45,220 the year before.
The number of applicants from other overseas countries held steady at 52,630, around 70 more than 2016.
Applications to UK universities overall fell by 5% to a total of 469,490. There was a slump in English students applying for university, with 6% fewer applications in 2016. University applications fell by 5% in Northern Ireland, 2% in Scotland, and 7% in Wales.
In December, the Guardian reported that the government is considering cutting annual student visa numbers from 300,000 to 170,000 as part of a post-Brexit drive to lower immigration figures.
Up to 31,000 EU students could be deterred from coming to the UK if the Home Office makes European students pay the same university rates as non-EU nationals after Brexit, which would represent a 57% decline, according to a report from the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI).
The post-Brexit drop in the number of EU students coming to the UK to study could cost the economy £2 billion ($US2.45 billion) a year.
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