Brexit and London's Higher Education Sector

MQT on 2017-09-14
Session date: 
September 14, 2017
Question By: 
Joanne McCartney
Labour Group
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


Given the Government's claims that there has been mass overstaying by foreign students have now been proved to be false by recent ONS figures, will you further renew your calls for HE students to be taken out of any immigration targets? What other steps does the government need to take to protect London's HE institutions during the chaotic Brexit negotiations and post Brexit?


Answer for Brexit and London's Higher Education Sector

Answer for Brexit and London's Higher Education Sector

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Thank you for that question.  The UK has a strong reputation as a place for global talent and we must ensure that we continue to be a beacon for talent from across the world.  International students should never have been included in the net migration target.  This is a great export opportunity for London and the UK.  What other service export would be politicised in this way?  As the recent Office for National Statistics (ONS) data published in August this year shows, there is, and I quote, “No evidence of a major issue of non-EU students overstaying their entitlement to stay”.  Some will of course stay on for further study and research or move into skilled work opportunities here.  This is something that we should welcome.  We should also be extremely proud that London’s higher education sector is world-class.  We have four universities in the world’s top 40, we have world-leading institutions and specialist institutions, including the Royal Colleges, the London Business School and national research centres, such as The Francis Crick Institute.  London continues to be the most popular city in the world for international higher education students.  It is the higher education capital of the world.


However, this success cannot be taken for granted and our universities need policies that support them, not work against them.  In my recent meeting with the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, the Rt. Hon David Davis MP, I was joined by Professor Alice Gast, President of Imperial College London, who made this point persuasively.  My priority is for the Government to introduce a clear post-study work opportunity for international students, one that universities can include during recruitment periods.  I am pleased the Home Secretary has commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to assess the impact of international students and I will be responding and making the case for clear policies that support our universities.


Joanne McCartney AM:  Thank you.  You are quite right that London is a world leader in our higher education sector.  The benefits of that ripple out into the wider economy.  Did you get a sense from your meeting with Government that it understood the benefits of the higher education sector and it is going to work with you to ensure that that sector is not damaged?  I note what you say about the Home Secretary’s immigration work, but I understand that is not going to report until next year at the earliest.


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Yes.  I am always the optimist and there are some pieces of good news. [The Rt. Hon] David Davis [MP] gave the impression that he understands the importance of higher education not just to London’s economy but the UK’s economy, the synergy between research and development (R&D) and employers loving London because of our universities.  Just bear in mind the proximity also of Oxford and Cambridge to London as well.  I am also optimistic because of the announcement from Jo Johnson [MP, Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation], who recently reiterated the Government’s commitment to underwrite the funding for all successful bids made by the UK participants for Horizon 2020 that are submitted before we leave the EU.


The problem though is that if you are a potential student, if you are a postgrad, if you are a research student, if you are an academic, you are nervous about what will happen when we leave the EU.  That is why reassurance is required at all stages.  We are going to be submitting evidence to the MAC.  You are right that it will not report for a while.  That is why it is important the Prime Minister, who is making a speech shortly in relation to the EU, needs to give the reassurance, which should come from the Prime Minister, about the role of higher education going forward.


Joanne McCartney AM:  Thank you.  What the latest ONS figures show is the importance of basing policies and asks on evidence.  What assurance can you give that your own work on Brexit and the impact it has the London economy is actually based in evidence?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Absolutely.  I subscribe to the school of thought that people in this country have had enough of experts, as was indeed the view of [the Rt. Hon] Michael Gove [MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs].  I am of the view that the evidence is inarguable when it comes to our education in relation to the contribution to London, but also the contribution to the country.  Put aside for a moment the economic benefits.  Think of the influence we have when you have world leaders educated in our country; think of the influence we have across the world when we have some of our alumni who are chief executives, teachers elsewhere around the world.  The idea that we would somehow diminish inadvertently the role we have around the world by a bad negotiation with the EU or by an immigration policy that disadvantages students who want to come here and study and then work here does not make sense to me.


Joanne McCartney AM:  Thank you.