Free Movement for EU Students Must Stay After Brexit, Panel Says

(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. should set up a system “closely resembling” the free movement that comes with membership of the European Union if it wants to remain a world leader in higher education, a cross-party panel of lawmakers said.

Students and academics need support and reassurance to avert a “brain drain” after Brexit, the House of Commons Education Committee said in a report on Tuesday. Britain should also replicate the opportunities and funding provided by the EU’s Horizon 2020 and future research frameworks, along with the Erasmus+ exchange program, if it fails to negotiate continued access, the report said.

“Higher education in the U.K. is a world leader but Brexit risks damaging our international competitiveness and the long-term success of our universities,” committee chairman Neil Carmichael, a member of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party, said in an email. “We now have the opportunity to reform our immigration system to ensure we reap the full rewards of the ability of our universities to attract the brightest and best students and staff from across the world.”

There’s an urgent need to end uncertainty over the rights of EU citizens in the U.K., the panel said, echoing demands from lawmakers of all parties as May prepares to negotiate Britain’s divorce from the bloc. Students should also be excluded from Britain’s net migration target to send a signal that it wants talented people to come to study, the report said.

“We believe the best model for EU students is to retain a reciprocal open approach with light-touch controls, such as visa-free access, which would enable preservation of a system closely resembling freedom of movement,” the report said. “We recommend the government takes this open approach with all international students if it is serious in its desire for the U.K. to remain a global leader in higher education.”