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Vice-Chancellor's four-point challenge for the Government at Conservative Party Conference

04 October 2016
VC Conservative Party Conference Speech for HE BIll

LSBU Vice-Chancellor Professor David Phoenix attends Conservative Party Conference to address Brexit and the Higher Education Bill

In a speech delivered today (4 October), London South Bank University's (LSBU) Vice-Chancellor and Chair of MillionPlusProfessor David Phoenix, outlined a four-point challenge for the Government as progress towards the Higher Education and Research Bill and Brexit continues.

The Bill reforms the regulatory architecture of higher education in England, and the Government’s research agencies that operate across the UK. The last time such comprehensive reforms were introduced was through the Further and Higher Education Act 1992.

Since the Brexit vote, Prof. Phoenix has continually reassured international and EU students, as well as those applying to study at LSBU, that he remains committed to ensuring that LSBU continues to be a welcoming, diverse and vibrant international community.

In today’s Conservative Party Conference he called on ministers to guarantee that EU students who enter university between 2017 and 2020 will have access to funding for the duration of their course, stating that the announcement needs to be made “as a matter of urgency".

Prof.Phoenix said, “I have made no secret of the fact that I think the Government does need to soften the edges of this Bill. Collaboration and working in the public interest are distinguishing features of all UK universities and as such a reference to public interest should appear on the face of the Bill, as it is an elemental principle of our higher education system.”

Joining alongside Prof. Phoenix was Jo Johnson MP, Minister for Universities and Science, Ben Howlett MP for Bath and Sorana Vieru, National Union of Students Vice President for Higher Education.

Prof. Phoenix concluded his speech with a four-point challenge, addressing the HE Bill, Brexit, the visa regime for international students and the Government’s aim to improve social mobility.

“First, let’s continue to have a dialogue to ensure that the Higher Education and Research Bill works for students and the sector, and does not in any way water down the justifiably rigorous criteria for university title in England. The Bill must support the principle that universities and the new Office for Students and UK Research and Innovation work in the public interest, placing the necessary value on the links between teaching and research as inseparable parts of one successful system. 

“Second, let’s ensure that Brexit negotiations recognise and support the continuation of the UK’s trade in higher education services and research, with both the EU and the wider global community.

“Third, let’s have a visa regime for international students which supports all universities to engage and which does not seek to reduce the number of international students as a back-door means of reducing the general migration numbers.

“And finally let’s find practical and long-term ways of meeting the Prime Minister’s ambitions to promote social mobility, without undermining the autonomy of our universities by forcing them to sponsor a school or an academy, while ignoring the many successful ways in which universities already support schools and colleges.”

In response to comments made by the Home Secretary Rt. Hon. Amber Rudd in today’s conference, in which she announced that a government consultation for the student visa system should be tailored to quality of course and institution, Prof.Phoenix said:

“All UK universities are quality assured and there is no evidence that international students currently being accepted on courses are poorly qualified. These students have high levels of retention and completion and already have to meet stringent conditions laid down by the Home Office to gain a visa.

“We shall be responding to the Home Office consultation but the real answer is for the government to stop treating international students as economic migrants and to take them out of the migration numbers altogether.”

Read more advice on the EU referendum and Prof. Phoenix's transcript that was delivered in today's fringe meeting.

Notes for Editors: check against delivery.

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