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Domestic policy change

In addition to securing a positive outcome during exit negotiations, the UK’s exit from the EU presents government with an opportunity to develop policy to capitalise on the UK’s unique strengths to achieve economic growth and international influence.

The following domestic policy changes are necessary to ensure that British universities can thrive outside the EU and deliver maximum economic and social impact in communities across the UK.

  1. A simplified and improved visa regime for international staff. The UK’s economic success and global influence outside of the EU will be maximised by the government putting in place an immigration system that supports the UK to be a destination of choice for international talent. The government has an opportunity to reshape the immigration system to recognise the value of attracting overseas talent from countries both in Europe and beyond. Reflecting public opinion on immigration, a new regime should prioritise highly skilled groups such as post-doctoral researchers, academic staff, and technical and professional staff, regardless of their nationality. A phased transition with minimal barriers for EEA staff is needed while significant reforms are made to create an immigration system which better recognises the importance of international talent.

  2. A reformed system should be simpler, less expensive and more user-friendly for all international university staff, and with minimal bureaucracy and lower administrative burdens for both applicants and employers. It should also provide the flexibility needed to accommodate all forms of academic and research mobility, from exchange programmes to longer-term courses and posts, from early career talent to established global stars. An improved visa regime should be coupled with a government-backed campaign of communications and incentives to attract leading global academic talent to the UK.

  3. A simplified and improved visa regime for international students. While maintaining the current arrangements for EEA students for a transitional period, the government should seize the opportunity that Brexit provides for reshaping the immigration system to reduce barriers for qualified international students, recognising their huge local economic and social impact. Acknowledging strong public support for international students, the government should simplify and improve the visa regime to encourage students from both Europe and the wider world who would benefit from UK higher education and can support themselves to study, to choose to study in the UK. This should include removing international students from the net migration target and communicating a welcoming message worldwide that the UK is an open and attractive destination for students.

  4. Enhanced support for international research collaboration. The government should prioritise developing new collaborative funding arrangements and provide enhanced support for research collaboration with both European partners and with major research powers outside of Europe, with a focus on delivering excellent research. This should include new funding sources to incentivise and enable bilateral and multilateral collaborations with high quality international research partners – both established major partners such as the United States and emerging powers such as India and China.

  5. Such an approach would benefit from being underpinned by a cross-government approach to supporting international research (as part of a wider international research and education strategy), covering engagement with both the developed and developing world, and drawing together and building on the disparate funding mechanisms which exist for international collaboration currently. This more joined-up and strategic approach should include promoting research collaboration opportunities (through the new Department for International Trade) as a central pillar of the UK’s offer to overseas governments and businesses.

  6. Increased public investment in research. The UK is currently a net beneficiary of EU research and innovation programmes. Under Framework Programme 7 (which ran from 2007 to 2013) the UK won around €8.8 billion in grants, while paying in around €5.4 billion. If the UK’s exit from the EU results in a fall in public funding available for research and innovation, the government should immediately ensure that any losses are replaced by domestic funding.

  7. However, the UK should be much more ambitious than this. To maximise the positive economic and social impact of universities, and further the UK’s international competitiveness, the government should commit to a real terms increase in public research and development funding, with the aim of moving the UK further towards the OECD average for spending as a percentage of GDP. Currently, as a percentage of GDP, UK public investment in research falls well below competitor countries such as the United States, Germany and France. This investment would enhance the international standing of the UK research base, helping to ensure that the UK is the preferred collaborator for leading research powers around the world post-exit. Increased public investment in research also makes economic sense, with analysis suggesting that R&D expenditure typically has a rate of return of between 20% and 50%.

  8. Enhanced mobility opportunities for UK staff and students. Government must use Brexit as an opportunity to invest in international mobility programmes to support international experiences, recognising that Erasmus+ forms a key component – but only part of – the wider landscape of outward mobility. Government should adopt a quantitative target for UK students having outward mobility experiences, in recognition of the impact such an experience has on an individual’s skills and employability, and in order to bring the UK’s performance more in line with its key competitors.

  9. Supporting innovation to drive economic growth. Brexit provides an opportunity to create new mechanisms to facilitate and enhance universities’ role in driving innovation and growth at a local level and generating jobs. European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) should be replaced by alternative domestic funds at a UK and devolved administration level, including funding for innovation focused capital investment projects. UK and devolved governments should invest in catalysing
    collaborations between universities, business and the wider community to support innovation-driven economic growth. Strong collaborations at the local and national level are important in order for the UK to develop beneficial and long-lasting relationships with international partners. For example, increased investment in those existing flexible funds for knowledge exchange, such as the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) in England – which has a proven track record in driving collaborations between universities, business and the wider community – would strengthen the UK’s ability to compete on the international stage, while supporting local and national growth. We welcome the indications relating to HEIF in the government’s Industrial Strategy Green Paper.

  10. Improved regulation and infrastructure to make the UK the best place in the world to do science and research. The UK’s exit from the EU provides an opportunity for the UK to increase the scale of its scientific ambitions and to review the opportunities for regulatory reform in order to make the UK the best place in the world to do science and research. The UK government should identify opportunities to develop and host international research facilities, building on the success of initiatives like the Francis Crick Institute. The government should conduct a comprehensive review of the current regulatory landscape to identify where regulatory areas previously governed by EU rules could be revisited and improved, without prejudicing the UK’s ability to lead and coordinate pan-European research projects.

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