Brexit threatens university research, warns ex-Havant MP David Willetts

David Willetts
David Willetts
The Highfield Campus at the University of Southampton, which is home to the George Thomas Building. Picture: Geograph

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Former Havant MP David Willetts has warned that Brexit could threaten university research initiatives with European academics.

He was speaking during a debate in the House of Lords in which a number of peers raised concerns over the impact of Brexit on universities and the scientific research community.

Conservative peer Lord Willetts, a former universities minister, said: “There are a range of concerns in the university and science community about Brexit and we do need some kind of structure or framework in which those concerns can be considered by the Government.”

He welcomed the Government’s undertaking that it would guarantee research funding secured before the UK leaves the EU but urged it to go further.

One crucial issue Lord Willetts said needed to be tackled was the relationship with the EU research and innovation programme, known as Horizon 2020.

He said: “I rather regret that the way the debate went in the referendum focused so much on funding and not very much on networks, and the networks are if anything as important if not more important than the funding.

“Maintaining those networks is crucial.”

The Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt Rev Christopher Foster, stressed the need for continued engagement post-Brexit.

He said: “Insularity in our approach, perceived or actual, will relegate us in the world’s perspective and risk not only the financial stability of our outstanding universities but their educational standards too, to the detriment of the nation.”

Opening the debate, Labour former MP Lord Soley highlighted concerns by the Russell Group of UK universities that it should be able to “continue to recruit talented staff and students” from the EU “without bureaucratic visa restrictions”.

The Lords was told that British universities face being damaged by a “haemorrhage” of EU students and academics unless assurances are given over any new post-Brexit immigration controls.

Independent crossbencher Lord Hannay of Chiswick, a former ambassador to the UN, also said that funding for UK research was at “acute” risk, following the vote to leave the bloc.