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Scottish HE leaders brand Brexit visa plans ‘crass’

As many in London brace themselves for three crucial Brexit votes in parliament, universities and educators further north are calling for a change to the planned visa arrangements, which would come into place if no deal can be agreed and the UK ‘crashes out’ of the EU.

The principal of the University of Glasgow (spire on the right) has sparked calls for a 'no-deal' re-think. Photo: Flickr/ Ian Dick

The University of Aberdeen added its voice to those concerned by the new proposals

In this case, the government at Westminster has made an offer of three years ‘leave to remain’ in the UK to EU-domiciled students.

“This makes no sense… given the doctors and engineers we need”

However, the majority of degrees offered in Scotland are four-year degrees, and the ability for EU students to apply for and undertake this option has been questioned by Anton Muscatelli, principal of the University of Glasgow and chair of the Russell Group, who called the idea “crass”.

Muscatelli said he was “astonished” to hear the plans, which the Russell Group head of policy Jess Cole described as like a “kick in the teeth” for Scottish higher education institutions.

Sir Muscatelli lamented that international recruitment from the EU could be drastically hit if the suggested policy comes into force.

“I think it could be really serious. I think for a lot of students it could put them off,” he said.

In further comments, the Russell Group’s Cole said the British health service would also be seriously affected by the UK-wide policy, as many medical courses as well as engineering and architecture take far more than three years to complete.

“This makes no sense for the NHS and industry, given the doctors and engineers we need,” she said.

“We have repeatedly made our concerns clear to the Home Office and have still received no reassurances,” Cole added.

The University of Aberdeen added its voice to those concerned by the new proposals, and highlighting the “assumption” that UK HE is “uniformed”.

“The proposed plan to offer EU students temporary leave to remain in the UK for only three years seems to be based on an assumption that the education system in the UK is uniformed, which is obviously not the case. We have many EU students here at the University of Aberdeen who study for a minimum of four years and so we would hope that there will be options made available to them to enable them to remain at the University for the duration of their course,” a spokesperson told The PIE News.

In a separate debate over the immigration policy for workers in the case of ‘no-deal’ Brexit, Russell Group chief executive Tim Bradshaw said the British university sector would be harmed by a minimum £30,000 salary requirement for migrant workers. The Group suggested a more reasonable level would be £21,000 per year.

“Russell Group universities stand among the best in the world and are a proud national asset, precisely because we are international in nature. To deliver for our students and communities we need to attract the best minds from around the globe. For certain posts, for example technicians, we also face real shortages in our domestic workforce,” he said.

Education is one of the devolved powers the Scottish government in Edinburgh controls, and minister for Higher Education  Richard Lochhead told The PIE it is still waiting for reassurances from London.

“We are awaiting a response from the UK Government and we continue to urge them to end the uncertainty around future arrangements for EU students in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

“To suggest that EU students will have to apply for a visa to complete the final year of their course in Scotland – at a cost of up to £840 – is outrageous and it must be dropped immediately,” he added.

“It’s another example of how Scotland’s distinct needs have been totally ignored by the UK Government throughout the entire Brexit process.”

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