By Dr Joe Marshall, CEO, National Centre for Universities and Business
Many of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) report’s headline findings will come as no surprise to the National Centre for Universities and Business’ members and stakeholders.
It is heartening to see the richness of the contribution made by EEA migrants set out so clearly, and explicitly positioned as a rationale for the policy recommendations that follow it. That plan of action brings with it a series of challenges and opportunities, both practical and cultural, for those with an interest in university-business collaboration.
NCUB’s membership is, in many respects, remarkably broad. Ranging across a clutch of sectoral interests, research specialisms and national and global perspectives, the diversity of our member base is a real strength.
It does however coalesce around the need for university-business partnerships to sit at the heart of our national offer; and further, that the UK should aspire to be a world-leading knowledge economy, bringing together our research assets, rich, innovation-ready business base and marketplace of ideas to find, advance and commercialise cutting-edge research and technology.
It is critical that our approach to migration does not disadvantage us in pursuit of this aim. We need the best and brightest minds to accomplish the tasks and ambitions we set ourselves: to be a world-leading knowledge economy; to accelerate investment in R&D; and to build ever-closer collaborations between research and industry to the benefit of both. Our position in negotiations with the EU should acknowledge this reality and recognise that posturing will be to our national disadvantage.
To this end, we specifically endorse the recommendation to remove the cap on Tier 2 visas for skilled workers. Retaining artificial barriers of this nature on our post-Brexit economy would place an unnecessary and self-destructive limit on our capacity to deliver on our potential. Similarly, the recommendation that in-country ability to change employers be made easier for tier 2 migrants is a valuable additional flexibility which would be valued by our members.
But we believe Government should seek to go further. Despite the challenges of Brexit, we have a national opportunity to streamline and modernise our immigration system in pursuit of an advanced knowledge economy. We urge Government to reflect on how this can be accomplished, and how industry and higher education can best be permitted access to the best minds and the best workers.
Further, we endorse the recommendations of the National Conversation on Immigration’s final report around higher education, namely that the UK remains and indeed intensifies its attempts to be seen as an attractive destination for international students – vital as they are to universities and the communities and economies in which they play a role. Immediate clarity from Government on the status of EU students in the UK after the Brexit transition period would be helpful.
The MAC report adds to the debate on immigration and our economy; we believe the conversation needs to continue in a way that recognises the needs of our innovators. People who can support the germination and development of new ideas are invaluable. We want them to do that in the UK, and in doing so, help to develop and nurture our next generation of research and innovation leaders.