UK’s Brexit White Paper plans for ‘temporary’ researcher mobility

Government document fails to offer universities reassurance, sector critics warn

July 12, 2018
UK and EU flags

The UK government wants to discuss with the European Union a scheme for “temporary mobility of scientists and researchers” after Brexit, its long-awaited White Paper states.

The White Paper on the government’s plans for future relations with the EU, which include ending freedom of movement, brought criticism from the sector that it failed to offer a path to the kind of “comprehensive and ongoing agreement” on academic and research staff that universities need.

The UK will “discuss how to facilitate temporary mobility of scientists and researchers, self-employed professionals, employees providing services, as well as investors”, says the White Paper, published on 12 July.

It also says that the UK’s proposal for an economic partnership with the EU would “include a new framework that respects the UK’s control of its borders”, ending freedom of movement. But this framework would “help students and young people to enjoy the opportunities and experiences available in the UK and the EU – in line with the arrangements that the UK might want to offer to other close trading partners in the future”.

That appears to suggest that student mobility could be tied into trade agreements struck by the UK. Times Higher Education reported last year that the government had explored the idea of offering other nations’ students access to public student loans as part of trade deals.

But the White Paper offers nothing on the issue of the fees to be charged to EU students after Brexit. At present, EU students pay the same fees as home students and have access to UK government student loans.

On the EU’s Erasmus student mobility scheme, the White Paper says that the government is “open to exploring participation in the successor scheme”.

On the EU’s research programme, the document echoes previous statements by Theresa May in saying that “the UK wishes to explore association in research and innovation programmes, including Horizon Europe” and the Euratom research and training programme.

Greg Walker, chief executive of MillionPlus, said: “The labour mobility proposals in the White Paper indicate a clearer direction of travel from the government, but reference to researcher mobility with the EU as ‘temporary’ and without any supporting detail will not reassure many. Maintaining the UK’s world-class strengths in science and research will require a comprehensive and ongoing agreement concerning the mobility of academic and research staff.”  

He added: “Other key concerns have gone unanswered in the White Paper, such as reciprocal agreement on university fees for EU students post-Brexit. This is a matter that should be a priority for the government, not an also-ran issue.”

Mr Walker warned that if the government were to fail to reach a deal with the EU, it “could bring hugely damaging consequences for UK universities, their staff and students”.

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