The House of Commons education committee in the UK has called for the rights of 32,000 university staff from European Union countries to be guaranteed post Brexit as a matter of urgency.

The report says that the Government should be prepared to unilaterally guarantee the rights of EU nationals in the UK before the end of the year, even if a reciprocal deal has not been agreed, to prevent an exodus of talented EU staff leaving the UK for competitor countries.

‘Higher education in the UK is a world leader, but Brexit risks damaging our international competitiveness and the long term success of our universities,’ said Neil Carmichael, the chairman of the committee.

The report urges the Government to remove overseas students from the net migration target, making it clear it wants talent from the EU and the rest of the world to come to the UK.

It also calls for reforms to the immigration system to reflect the requirements of higher education by facilitating, rather than obstructing, movement of higher people from and to the nation’s universities, helping to ensure continued academic collaboration and the Higher Education sector's international competitiveness.

To achieve this the Committee recommends that the Government introduce an easier route than the tier 2 (skilled worker) visa for academics from across the globe, with less bureaucracy, to show it is serious in its aim of bringing in the best people from around the world.

‘It’s welcome that EU students have been given some guarantees on their funding and loan access but the Government must act urgently to address the uncertainty over EU staff and avert the risk of a damaging brain drain of talent from our shores,’ Carmichael pointed out.

‘As we leave the European Union 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,’ he added.

On students studying in the UK, the report recommends an open approach with few barriers as the best model for all international students, including those from the EU. The Committee calls for the UK to retain a reciprocal open approach with light touch controls, such as visa-free access, which would enable the preservation of a system closely resembling freedom of movement.

The Education Committee’s report recommends a number of priority areas for the Government’s Brexit negotiations, on staffing, students, research programmes and future collaboration, to ensure the UK higher education sector is equipped to deal with the challenges and opportunities of leaving the EU.

To support the sector and help rebalance the economy, the report calls for the Government to establish a new regional growth fund to replace, and exceed, the investment from European structural funding, and to ensure that all regions benefit from this domestic funding.

The report recommends the Government commit to Horizon 2020 and future research frameworks to ensure ongoing research collaboration with the EU, but calls on the Government to develop a plan to match this funding if there is a failure to access these programmes.

The report recognises the importance of the Erasmus+ programme for student and staff mobility and that the Government should target continued membership. However, if membership looks unlikely, the Committee recommends a home grown replacement is developed which could include mobility beyond Europe.

‘A future administration should develop a bold cross Government strategy to take advantage of the global reach of our universities and ensure that higher education plays an important role in upcoming trade deals with the rest of the world. If the next Government takes these steps, our university sector will be able to punch its weight and seize the local and global opportunities on offer as we leave the European Union,’ Carmichael concluded.