The director general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) will urge the government to keep the UK’s place in European Union research programmes and warn against Labour’s plan to abolish tuition fees in England.
Speaking at the Universities UK conference on 6 September, Carolyn Fairbairn will also urge the government to ensure that universities are at the heart of its industrial strategy.
Her speech to the conference, at Brunel University London, will come as the government unveils a Brexit position paper on science and innovation that is expected to commit to a goal of continued membership of Horizon 2020 and future EU framework programmes for research.
Some observers have argued that business and higher education should unite on Brexit, given their common interests on issues such as ensuring an open future immigration regime, and Ms Fairbairn’s speech may signal such an approach.
She will say on EU research: “We are not likely to be able to replace quickly the benefits of participating in these framework programmes.
“That means we must seek bespoke ‘associated country’ status in all aspects of Framework Programme 9 [the successor to Horizon 2020]. And this should be an aspect of the permanent settlement between the UK and the EU – not just a transitional arrangement.”
She will add that the CBI “wants to see spending on R&D raised to 3 per cent of GDP, as a shared goal for the public and private sector”.
On Brexit and immigration, Ms Fairbairn will say: “First and foremost, let’s give people some clarity by saying, irrespective of the deal, the UK government will let those staff already here from EU countries stay, and that those students applying to start courses up to and through the transition period will be able to come and complete their course.”
Ms Fairbairn’s intervention on university funding, and her criticism of Labour’s plan to reintroduce direct public funding and maintenance grants, may raise eyebrows among some given that the business lobbying organisation has no direct involvement in higher education.
She will say that, in England, “we’ve seen record numbers of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds make it, and open up a world of opportunities for their future”.
“This is the system that tuition fees have funded – ensuring universities have sustainable, independent funds; making sure students pay nothing until they are in work – an effective graduate tax; and raising participation rates amongst the most disadvantaged groups,” Ms Fairbairn will add. “All delivered in an affordable way for the taxpayer.”
She will also say that reintroducing direct public funding “would cost £11 billion per year – money spent on those who, on average, will end up as the best off in our society”.
However, Ms Fairbairn will add that “if we choose – as I think we should – to maintain the fee system in England, we do have to ask why there has been rising concern about the system”.