This speech made to the House of Lords dealt with the issue of academic mobility in post Brexit Europe. Lord Bilimoria highlights the worrying fact that the Erasmus program, after 30 years of being in effect, will be lost in post Brexit Britain. Currently this program enables foreign students to study in the UK and vise versa, creating academic movement that results in highly successful research programs in the UK and EU. Drawing on the example of Switzerland, Lord Bilimoria emphasises that Switzerland were forced to withdraw from the program when they decided to tighten immigration. Thus there is a clear parallel to be drawn as a result of Brexit.

Lord Bilimoria continues to urge his fellow peers to come to the realisation that Brexit will undermine the UK’s current standings in scientific research as a result of the crippling of academic mobility. The power of collaboration in a global community to stimulate academic advancement is far more than just the funds that Universities receive from the EU, he argues.

Lord Bilimoria concludes with a point on the effect on young people who didn’t even have a voice in the referendum, and yet their educations/futures have been jeopardised. “This is their future, in which they want a say!”


26th February 2018, 

Lord Bilimoria:

My Lords, the mere fact that we require these amendments is shocking in itself. UK universities receive an additional 15% in funding from the European Union. Academics will now struggle to co-operate on research projects. The change in the visa regime that takes place may deter high-calibre academics joining British universities. That is happening already. When European universities have a chance to collaborate they already think twice before collaborating with a British university, and that is shameful.

The Erasmus programme is 30 years old. Are we going to throw away 30 years of that wonderful initiative? Hear what the Europeans say:

“‘The absence of physical mobility after Brexit would take us apart’, said João Bacelar, executive manager at the European University Foundation. ‘Student exchange is kind of the antidote to the malaise of Brexit. It is profoundly unfair if young people would pay a price for something they didn’t want’”.

Employers value the Erasmus brand. More than 200,000 British students have benefited from Erasmus. We have heard that other countries that are not part of the European Union can be part of Erasmus. Let us beware of what happened with Switzerland. When Switzerland voted to restrict European migration, it was taken out of the Erasmus programme. It has had to spend extra money to put a new programme in place. Do we want to go through all that? I do not think we should.

The best thing about Erasmus is that it is for everyone. It allows students who cannot afford it to study abroad in a variety of subjects. My noble friend Lady Coussins spoke about language skills. Erasmus involves 725,000 European students annually—a huge number. We do not want to be left out of it. We are the third most popular destination; 30,000 students want to study in Britain and 40,000 of our students are over there. These are huge numbers. If that mobility goes, we are going to suffer.

Will the Government keep their promise to maintain and protect all funding streams for EU projects in the UK? Will they ensure that there is no cliff edge for funding for scientific research at the conclusion of the Brexit negotiations? Will the Government confirm that British researchers must be able to continue to participate in an unrestricted manner in current and future EU science initiatives? Will they never prevent highly skilled scientists coming into this country? I would like that assurance from the Minister.

We have heard time and again about our funding and research power. We have 1% of the world’s population but produce 16% of the most highly cited research articles. That is how good we are. Every committee—including the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee and the House of Commons committee—is saying that this would be damaging for the UK. A recent YouGov survey showed that 76% of non-UK EU academics are already considering leaving the country. What are we doing?

There are two messages here, one about collaboration and the other about funding. As the noble Lord, Lord Patten, said, we get more than we put in. We are asking the Government for a guarantee that we are going to get that funding. But more important than the funding is the power of collaboration. As chancellor of the University of Birmingham, I am proud that it received a Queen’s Anniversary Prize last week. When I was in India, we cited an example of the power of collaboration between the University of Punjab and the University of Birmingham. The University of Birmingham’s field-weighted citation impact is 1.87. The University of Punjab’s is 1.37. When we do collaborative research, it is 5.64. When the University of Birmingham does collaborative research with Harvard University it is 5.69. Its impact in collaboration is three times greater than it is as an individual university, and that applies to all the collaborations that we carry out with programmes such as Horizon.

Finally, this is about universities and our youth. This is depriving them of their future. I speak at schools and universities regularly, and I ask students every single time how many of them, if they were given a choice, would choose to remain in the European Union. Without exaggeration, almost 100% of the hands go up. There are two years’ worth of 16 and 17 year-olds who did not get a say in the wretched referendum two years ago, and this is their future, in which they will want a say. That is what this amendment is about: the future of our youth through Erasmus and Horizon 2020. We cannot take that future away from them. We have to go through with these amendments, and it is most likely we will end up remaining in the European Union.

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