“EU students are not bargaining chips for Brexit”, NUS tells MPs

Thursday 26-01-2017 - 16:04

Yesterday, Sorana Vieru, NUS Vice President (Higher Education) gave evidence to the Education Select Committee as part of their inquiry on the implications of Brexit on higher education.

The Education Select Committee is an influential group of cross-party MPs that exists to scrutinise the work of the Department for Education. They launched an inquiry into Brexit in September 2016 to examine the thoughts being voiced by the HE sector about the risks – and opportunities – of the UK leaving the EU.

NUS provided a formal written submission to the inquiry at the end of 2016, which is available here. (Submissions from other organisations can be found here.)

Sorana Vieru was invited by the Committee to be a formal witness to the inquiry on behalf of NUS, and yesterday gave oral evidence alongside Sally Hunt (UCU), Jo Beall (British Council), and Rosie Birchard (Erasmus Student Network UK).

Answering the MPs’ questions, Sorana repeatedly stressed that:

  1. EU students are not bargaining chips. Students who are already here or who will begin courses in the UK before the UK has formally left the EU need urgent clarity about their status, and this should not be contingent on what the EU offers UK citizens.
  2. Student mobility around Europe is integral to transformational experiences. The Erasmus programme or alternative programmes like it should be a priority in negotiations.
  3. Students should not be made to suffer because of the harmful rhetoric around Brexit. International students have become easy targets – both on campuses and through government policies – and urgent action is needed to show that international students are welcome. To do this, they must be removed from net migration figures.

NUS is concerned that the Prime Minister’s Brexit speech last week said little about the impact of Brexit on students or young people, and we would welcome an urgent indication that these groups are priorities for the government.

However, as Sorana told the Committee yesterday, there is much within the government’s plans that will concern students indirectly; in particular, the announcement of the end to free movement.

The Committee questions explored the government’s Brexit negotiation priorities; the future of the Erasmus+ programme; and, the wider impact of Brexit on students at universities in the UK.

As well as stressing the urgent need to clarify the status of EU students in the UK after Brexit and the importance of access to student mobility programmes, Sorana impressed upon the Committee that as the UK develops a new relationship with other countries and plans for a future outside the EU, we will be in ever greater need of internationally literate graduates.

If the UK is to become the ‘global Britain’ that Prime Minister has ambitions for, students who recognise and value diverse and intercultural communities – and have networks that span across continents – will be key to the UK’s future.

Sorana – along with the other panellists – told the Committee that the UK cannot pretend it is open for talent and a ‘global’ outward looking nation, at the same time as its approach to international students suggests it is anything but.

All panellists advocated removing international students from net migration figures as the first step in genuinely ‘opening up’ Britain to international students.

You can watch the full session below.

Transcripts of the sessions from the inquiry are made available here.

The Committee will continue to hold oral evidence sessions with different organisations and representatives before producing a report that addresses what the Government must do to allay the fears of students and the university sector.

NUS will continue to argue in Parliament for students’ rights in the uncertainty that Brexit has created. You can keep track of what’s happening in Parliament and where debates on Brexit are at every week with our new Westminster Weekly updates here.



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