Ollie Purkiss, Liberal Democrats candidate for Surrey South West.
Thank you for taking the time to contact me regarding the Higher Education sector and Brexit. I completely agree that a hard Brexit will be devastating for this sector and that we must fight to protect this socially and economically vital element of our country. The Conservative’s hard Brexit agenda is senselessly jeopardising our renowned and respected education sector and my party and I will continue to do everything in our power to stop them.
The EU student population contributed £3.7 billion to our economy and provided 34,000 jobs between 2012 and 2013. It is vital that the Conservative government ensure that this population can continue to study. To curtail the movement of EU students, or to actively cut their numbers would be irrational, illogical and short-sighted. Applications from the EU to Cambridge University for undergraduate courses have already dropped by 14%. We simply cannot afford to see this drop continue.
As well as the multitude of benefits that EU students bring to our country, UK students benefit hugely from being able to live and study in other EU member states. The Erasmus+ Programme is just one example of this. It offers opportunities for UK participants to study, work, volunteer, teach and train in Europe. Over 200,000 British students have already benefited from its opportunities. Over the next seven years Erasmus+ was set to allocate almost €1 billion to the UK and involve 250,000 participants. A hard Brexit, which would include the UK leaving the European Economic Area (EEA), would mean an end to our participation. It is senseless for us to withdraw from such a fantastic programme that has helped so many British people to develop, broaden their horizons and gain new experiences. The Tories are determined for us to cut off our nose to spite our face.
The EU is undeniably beneficial for our universities. It has directly invested in British universities, funding projects such as Swansea University’s new Innovation Centre. Under Framework Programme 7 (which ran from 2007 to 2013) the UK won around €8.8 billion in research grants, while paying in €5.4 billion. Through the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme the UK is set to receive £2 billion in the first two years. If the government, pull us out of the EU and the European Research Area (ERA) we will not be eligible for any future Horizon 2020 funding. Research and development, academic sharing and the exchange of ideas is essential for the future prosperity of the UK.
The Liberal Democrats are the only party that have consistently fought to stop the Tories pursuit of a hard Brexit. We have consistently called on the government to grant EU citizens living in the UK the right to remain; fought for the people to have the final say on the Brexit deal; and called for the Britain to maintain its membership of the Single Market. Voting for departure is not the same as voting for a destination. My colleagues and I will continue to push against a hard Brexit, advocating for the UK’s continued membership of the ERA and EEA.