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Politicians of all stripes fear loss of EU students, post-Brexit

In a remarkable change of tack, Conservative politicians have joined Labour and Scottish National Party counterparts to protest the potentially harmful effect Britain’s exit from the European Union may have on international students in the UK.

Conservative MP Jo Johnson has has introduced an amendment to the Immigration Bill, along with Labour's Blomfield. Photo: UK Parliament

The amendment is said to attract cross-party support

In a letter written to The Times former Universities minister (and brother to Brexiteer-in-chief Boris) Jo Johnson explained the “460,000 that come each year contribute the lion’s share of our £20 billion education exports and take friendships home that later become trade links, cultural bonds and diplomatic ties”.

“The UK’s post-study work offer is simply not competitive”

He pointed to the new International Education Strategy, but said it would not work unless mobile students were taken out of the government migration stats – in opposition to the Migration Advisory Committee, which suggested against such a move in a recent report.

Along with Paul Blomfield (Labour), the co-chair of the APPG International students, Johnson has introduced an amendment to the new Immigration Bill which would force the government to ask parliament before putting into action any effective cap on international students.

It would also restore the UK’s post-study work offering to two years, again against the advice of the MAC.

In a following post on Medium, Johnson added that UK international student numbers are in “freefall”, and quoted his cross-bench colleague Blomfield, saying “Slashed in 2012 to just four months, from two years, the UK’s post-study work offer is simply not competitive. While International Education Strategy will increase this to six months, that’s not nearly enough to make the difference we need.”

Johnson added that powerful colleagues, such as Education Select Committee chair Robert Halfon, former Education secretaries Nicky Morgan and Justine Greening, and even former Brexit secretary David Davis.

And across the aisle, Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner and Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, along with Hilary Benn and Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson Layla Moran, and SNP Education Spokesperson Carol Monaghan are all signed up to the amendment.

“I want to ensure we attract global talent, not just from the EU”

Meanwhile, this weekend Buzzfeed’s UK political news site “revealed” how EU students would be charged international fees, if the UK crashes out of the bloc.

Despite it being the case for almost three years, the British media and political mainstream went into a kind of meltdown, and it was even raised in parliament on Monday as current Universities minister Chris Skidmore fielded questions on education.

Responding to a question from the SNP’s Monaghan, Skidmore said “the government has already committed to 2020/2021 ‘home fees status’ [for EU students].

“I think it’s also very important to recognise the number of EU students has risen since 2017, up 3.8%. We want to ensure as a government we are doing our best to attract the best and the brightest internationally – which is why we published our international education strategy,” he added.

However, he hinted that the government did intend to raise EU students’ fees to be in line with what other international students pay to study at UK universities.

“And I want to ensure we attract global talent, not just from the EU, and I think that’s the point here – making sure we don’t discriminate against EU students vs international students, and making sure we have a system that works for all students across the globe,” he said.

But on Monday firebrand MEP, former Belgian prime minster, and chair of the European Parliament’s Brexit Steering Committee, Guy Verhofstadt added to the discussion with a letter (below), in which he said he and his colleagues were “surprised” by the news story.

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