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Professor Tony Stevenson, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, was part of a House of Commons Education Select Committee oral evidence session in Newcastle on March 7th as part of the inquiry into the impact of Brexit on Higher Education. Tony shares his thoughts and some of the key messages from the hearing.

Last Tuesday I represented our University at a select committee hearing, held here in Newcastle. The committee’s aim was to examine the strategies for universities handling the impact of Brexit, the overall risks and opportunities of exit from the EU, and higher education’s top priorities for the negotiations.  The session explored localised impacts for the North East of England and devolved nations such as Scotland, and whether the Government should be considering regional policies.
Leaders from Northumbria and Sunderland – and representatives from Universities Scotland, N8 Research Partnership (representing 8 Northern universities) also attended.  
We wanted the committee to come away with an understanding of the impact of Brexit on universities in the UK and at Newcastle.   

In previous communications around Brexit we have been clear that universities have always had an international dimension and this should continue, our EU students and staff are an essential part of the UK academic community – this message was reinforced.  We need the Government to ensure that retention of, and access to, this talent continues uninterrupted after exiting the EU, through free movement of people. This will allow the UK to benefit fully from interactions with the EU community that enrich the country’s knowledge and skills.

With plans to trigger Article 50 confirmed, it’s even more important we have clear guidelines to help us plan for the future.   The UK research community needs, as a minimum, a guarantee of the same level of funding we currently receive from the EU, which for us last year was £14.2 million.

But it’s not just about the money – EU funding enables us to attract excellent staff to the region and develop strong research collaborations across Europe which transcends national boundaries.

This is the time to make it not only clearer, but also easier, for our EU staff to make plans going forward. There is currently too much uncertainty and red-tape around their options. If we lose our people, they take years of experience and expertise along with them and we lose our friends and colleagues as well. From a practical viewpoint EU staff are a vital part of our research community – in one of our medical research centres (John Walton Muscular Dystrophy) almost a third of staff are from the EU.

The UK residency process needs to be simplified to ensure employees wanting and eligible to stay after 2019 are able to do so. We have seen our staff struggle to navigate the current laborious and bureaucratic process of residency, despite support and guidance. Urgent reform is needed to ensure a simple, light touch system.

We already know EU students are concerned about what will happen now and if we are to continue to be a global player in higher education, the Government needs to make sure our universities remain accessible and attractive places to study for everyone.  Existing EU students (including those entering in 2017) have chosen to make the UK their home while at university and they need firm reassurances that any immigration changes will not have a detrimental effect on their studies.

One of the primary roles of a university is to produce globally-minded graduates who are ready to enter an increasingly international workforce. With this in mind, we need continued commitment to the Erasmus+ programme now, as the first students to feel the impact of Brexit will be enrolling this September.

Erasmus+ has brought enormous benefits for Newcastle and many other UK universities in terms of cultural exchanges, diversity and internationalization. A recent impact study showed Erasmus students have better employability skills after a stay abroad than 70% of all students and are half as likely to experience long-term unemployment compared to those who did not take part.  This is something that we do not want to lose.  

You can view the full hearing at

Professor Tony Stevenson 
Deputy Vice-Chancellor 


published on: 13th March 2017


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