Dame Julia Goodfellow, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Kent, said: "As Brexit talks begin, it's important that the voice of universities is heard clearly in the negotiations.
"The election result showed the need for an optimistic approach to Brexit that is outward-looking and internationally-minded. The UK has one of the strongest university sectors in the world. Our universities' international links are central to our impact and success. A thriving university sector, that drives local economic growth and builds global connections, will be key to the UK making a long-term success of Brexit. British universities are the antidote to the UK's Brexit challenges.
"The challenges of Brexit for the UK's universities are well-known. Currently, 17% (33,735) of academic staff at UK universities are from other EU countries and there are more than 125,000 EU students studying at UK universities. In terms of research collaboration, the UK is one of the main players in the EU's research and innovation programme Horizon 2020.
"Through exit negotiations, the UK Government must ensure that the UK continues to welcome, with minimal barriers, talented EU students and staff. They should also make sure the UK can continue to access valuable and collaborative European research networks and programmes as well as Erasmus+ and other mobility programmes.
"The most urgent priority for the negotiations is to provide certainty on work and residency rights for all EU staff currently working in UK universities.
"We have already seen a small dip in the number of applications from EU students this year, so it is important that the UK projects the message globally that we are open and welcoming to international talent. There is now an opportunity to make sure that a reshaped, post-Brexit immigration system encourages talented international students and staff to choose the UK."
Fuller details of these priorities can be found in the Universities UK briefing What should be the government's priorities for exit negotiations and policy development to maximise the contribution of British universities to a successful and global UK?
The university leaders also stressed the need for the negotiations to take account of the different contexts and priorities of the devolved nations. With higher education being a devolved issue – and with Scotland and Northern Ireland both having voted to remain in the EU – it is important that the UK government listens to the views of all the UK's nations during the exit talks.