06 August 2018
In June we wrote about the challenges and opportunities that Brexit posed for the Welsh higher and further education sectors. This was part of an on-going National Assembly inquiry which will take evidence from the Cabinet Secretary for Education, Kirsty Williams, in the autumn.
We offer here an update on the previous post as part of a wider-series on the UK Government’s White Paper on the Future relationship between the UK and the EU. For a general overview of the White Paper proposals see this blog post.
The end of free-movement
Currently, whilst international, non-EU students must generally come to study and work in the UK with a visa gained under the points-based immigration rules, EU students and staff can study in the UK under existing freedom of movement rules [PDF: 1,377 KB]. In practice this means they can, in most respects, study or work here as if they were a UK student or worker.
UK Government has stated, in its White Paper, however, that:
‘free movement of people will end as the UK leaves the EU’.
If not free-movement, then what else for staff and students?
The proposal for a Youth Mobility Scheme made in the White Paper does not appear to be intended as a system for general student immigration.
The White Paper uses the term ‘Framework for Mobility’ under which it lays out schemes for the ‘temporary’ mobility of students, workers and ‘visiting’ tourists.
Throughout this section of the White Paper, there is no explicit statement regarding students being able to complete full programmes of study under the Framework for Mobility – it states instead that students should continue to have the ‘chance to benefit from each other’s world leading universities’.
When referring to the movement of scientists and researchers it again speaks of ‘temporary mobility’.
Beyond the Framework for Mobility, the White Paper is largely silent on the future of the UK immigration system and is therefore largely silent on the future of EU student and staff immigration. The paper states that ‘further details of the UK’s immigration system will be set out in due course’ with an Immigration Bill expected to be introduced to Parliament.
What is made clear within the paper, however, is that the UKs future immigration system will respect ‘the Government’s objective to control and reduce net migration’.
Taken in conjunction with UK plans for EU citizens to make applications for pre-settled and settled status, it is likely that any future EU staff and student immigration will become more controlled.
What might the Youth Mobility Scheme look like?
The White Paper does however give a sense into some thinking behind the proposed Youth Mobility Scheme.
It states that the scheme could be modelled on the UKs ‘other youth mobility schemes with other global partners, for example with Australia and Canada’.
Here it is likely referring to the so-called Tier 5 (Youth Mobility Scheme) in which Australia and Canada participate. This scheme is a points-based system, open only to participating countries, and has limit on the total number of allowed places (currently 34,000 for Australia and 6,000 for Canada for 2018).
Applicants must evidence a certain level of funding, be aged between 18 and 31, and significantly, can only stay in the UK for 2 years. Movement under this scheme would prevent a young person from undertaking a full 3 year undergraduate degree. At postgraduate level, they may be unable to study particular technical courses without Foreign Office approval.
This Youth Mobility Scheme is more prescriptive and of a different character from the current freedom of movement rules.
Cooperation: more than just programmes
The White Paper contains proposals for a number of cooperative accords. The two relevant to higher and further education are accords for science and innovation, and education and culture.
What has the UK proposed?
The UK is proposing a deeper relationship in some aspects of EU cooperation
‘through new cooperative accords that provide for a more strategic approach than simply agreeing the UK’s participation in [EU programmes]’ ‘
Such accords would require, the White Paper states, governance structures as well as appropriate financial contributions from the UK to allow both countries to ‘shape the activity covered’.
The White Paper is therefore proposing a mechanism to not only participate, but to also continue UK influence activity related to science, innovation and education.
The proposed accord for science and innovation is wide-ranging covering both participation in programmes such as Horizon Europe but also softer aspects identified as priorities by Welsh universities and colleges, such as research networks and channels for dialogue.
Likewise the culture and education accord section addresses a key sector ask with the potential for continued participation in the renewed Erasmus+ scheme as called for by Welsh universities, Universities Wales [PDF: 132KB) and ColegauCymru [PDF: 72KB].
And the EU view on all this?
The EU Council has published negotiation guidelines [PDF: 217KB], whilst the European Parliament has released a resolution on the future of the EU-UK relationship [PDF: 292KB].
There appears to be nothing within the negotiation guidelines or parliamentary resolution that would rule out the adoption, in principle, of these individual proposals.
This said, due to the nature of the negotiations, and the view of the EU on the indivisibility of the four freedoms (movement of goods, services, capital and persons), it is important to see these proposals as parts of a whole, their acceptance or not being dependent as much on progress and agreement in other areas as on their own, stand-alone merit.
On the provision for the movement of persons, the EU Council simply states any agreement should be ‘ambitious’ and ‘based on full reciprocity and non-discrimination amongst member states’. Beyond this it does not call for continued freedom of movement for students or staff.
At the same time the European Parliament in its resolution ‘underlines the value of cultural and educational cooperation, including learning and youth mobility’ and that it would welcome continued cooperation in research and innovation.
However, the resolution goes on to state that UK participation in EU programmes would be as a ‘third-country’. This would mean the UK having no decision-making role within these programmes.
Significantly, the European Parliament has also stated that future UK participation must not result in the UK getting more money back than it pays into a programme. With Cardiff University [PDF: 170KB] claiming that the UK is a net beneficiary of European research funding, there may remain funding implications for Welsh universities to which they would need to respond.
The Chequers proposals contain two matters of significant and direct interest to further and higher education, the mobility framework and the cooperative accords. However, it remains silent on the significant question of the future immigration system, which, due to the intention to control net migration, seems unlikely to address university concerns or Welsh Government calls for no ‘additional immigration restrictions’ for students.
Whilst the EU welcomes continued cooperation with the UK on science, innovation and education, the EUs current position appears to offer no prospect of continued UK decision-making in EU programmes. If this position doesn’t change this could set a limit on the level of UK influence within any cooperative accord that has these programmes at their centre.
Article by Phil Boshier, National Assembly for Wales Research Service