Committee: Welsh Government should seek immigration powers to protect Welsh universities

(Title Image: Wales Online)

Education & Young People Committee
The impact of Brexit on Further & Higher Education (pdf)
Published: 4th December 2018

“The Committee is very concerned that the almost inevitable change from the current immigration system will have a detrimental impact on universities. To reduce uncertainty, there must be as little change as possible to the rules governing the movement of EU students and staff – that is why we are calling on the Welsh Government to be proactive in trying to secure the executive powers it needs to allow them to make spatially different immigration rules specifically for students and academic staff in Wales.”
– Committee Chair, Lynne Neagle AM (Lab, Torfaen)

1. The Welsh Government should be allowed to set immigration rules for students and academics

At the moment, immigration rules are set at a UK-wide level and are non-devolved. Post-Brexit immigration rules are expected to place more emphasis on skills with no favouritism or alike based on nationality – however, it was unclear if this would still apply to students and there was an expectation that EU national students and academic staff will fall after Brexit – there’s already been a 10% drop in EU students opting to study in Wales for the 2018-19 academic year.

While the Welsh Government isn’t proactively seeking powers over immigration, their Brexit white paper demands some of those powers if the new system after Brexit “failed to meet Welsh needs”.

The Committee followed that with a recommendation that the Welsh Government seek the executive powers necessary to draft and implement a “made-in-Wales” single set of immigration rules for international students and staff. UKIP’s Michelle Brown disagreed with this recommendation.

2. Despite UK Treasury assurances on funding, universities and colleges are going to have to adapt to Brexit and a “No Deal” will be “significantly disruptive”

HEFCW told the Committee that the financial position of Welsh universities was generally “sound” in July 2016 but with a big variance between different universities. Since 2000, Welsh universities have received EU funding worth £570million and has led to projects such as Cardiff University’s Brain Imaging Centre – the only one of its kind in Europe, with the only comparable facility being located in Boston.

Further education colleges have been involved in delivering up to £600million worth of EU-backed projects, particularly in terms of apprenticeships and work-based training. There have been announcements from the UK Government on a “Shared Prosperity Fund” but absolutely no details and the Welsh Government told the Committee there remains some uncertainty over funding of the last two years of the work-based learning programme.

3. Universities and colleges aren’t expecting many benefits from Brexit

The loss of access to Erasmus+ will hamper the delivery of modern language degrees – which require a year abroad – and while both Welsh and UK governments want the UK to continue to participate in the scheme, a “No Deal” will require a replacement of some kind which hasn’t even got off the drawing board yet.

Universities also told the Committee that they expect problems in attracting and recruiting high-quality researchers and the inability for UK research funding to completely replace EU funding due to how it’s distributed – with a huge gap between Wales and the rest of the UK.

Colleges are more localised, but they will no doubt be heavily impacted by any potential economic fallout from Brexit, whether it’s in skills or the impact of new trading rules on companies and the local economy. The Committee recommended the Welsh Government commission a specific piece of work examining the possible changing skill demands in sectors most likely to experience Brexit-related disruption.

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