'Keep graduate visa route to protect research and innovation' Sussex business leaders tell Chancellor

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Chambers of Commerce representing businesses in Brighton & Hove, Eastbourne, Worthing & Adur and Sussex have joined university and business leaders to warn the government against watering down or scrapping the graduate visa route.

In total, 17 leaders from Chambers of Commerce and business networks from across the UK have collectively written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Local signatories were:

· Sarah Springford, Chief Executive, Brighton Chamber of Commerce

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· Christina Ewbank, Chief Executive, Eastbourne Chamber of Commerce

University of Brighton students on Brighton pierUniversity of Brighton students on Brighton pier
University of Brighton students on Brighton pier

· Tracie Davey, Chief Executive, Worthing & Adur Chamber of Commerce

· Ana Christie, Chief Executive, Sussex Chamber of Commerce

The letter, which was coordinated by the University Alliance group of universities, including the University of Brighton, has also been signed by leaders from Universities UK and the Russell Group.

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The letter has been sent ahead of the Migration Advisory Committee’s review of the graduate visa route set to be published on Tuesday, 14 May. The signatories argue that if the government were to make any restrictions to the graduate visa route in response, it would have a ‘serious impact upon research and development capacity and return on government investment, besides causing damage to the wider economy.’

In Brighton & Hove alone, international students generate almost £200m for the local economy every year.

The letter cites:

· Data collated by IDP Connect that indicates that if the graduate route were removed, 45% of international students would study elsewhere. Modelling by PwC shows that even if less than half of that projection came to pass, 80% of universities would be in deficit by 2026.

· That research & development at UK universities delivers a significant return on public investment: in England, the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) generates £8.30 for every £1 of funding.

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· The fact that the higher education sector itself is the second largest investor in research in the UK, spending £5.6billion on research in 2021.

· That most of this investment is generated by tuition fee income from international students. In turn, fewer international students in the UK will mean reduced investment in R&D.

· Any move to restrict international students would come at a time when over 50 UK universities are already cutting staff, and that number would increase should the graduate route be scrapped or restricted. Fewer staff would reduce universities’ workload capacity for research, innovation, and business support

Professor Debra Humphris CBE, Vice-Chancellor of University of Brighton, said: “Brighton has long been a destination of choice for students from our region, across the UK and around the world. Our wonderful student community includes people of all ages and backgrounds from over 100 countries, and together those students help generate more than £200m for the city of Brighton & Hove each year. It is vital to our city and our region that we’re able to continue to attract talented students from across the globe to study here in Brighton.

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Christina Ewbank, Chief Executive of Eastbourne Chamber of Commerce and representing the Alliance of Chambers in East Sussex, said: “It is only when brilliant minds collaborate that we push the barriers of our society and develop scientific advances to benefit humanity. Any policy that stops young people sharing ideas and knowledge is fundamentally wrong and will slow down vital research and development and also slow down our economic growth.

“We need to make it easier, not harder, for international students to come to our universities to share their ideas and enable those universities to remain amongst the best in the world.”

Ana Christie, Chief Executive of Sussex Chamber of Commerce, said: “An effective immigration system is vital for supporting businesses and economic growth here in our region and across the UK. We know that many businesses are facing very real challenges in finding people with the right skills, so it is important that the government ensures that we have access to a wide pool of talented students and graduates.”

Vivienne Stern MBE, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said:“We’re incredibly lucky so many international students choose to study here; they enrich our campuses, generate jobs and strengthen our soft power in the world – yet we seem intent on dismantling all of this. The Graduate Route is an essential part of the UK’s competitiveness in our offer to those students. It underpins a £37 billion export market, the employment of over 230,000 people in higher education and the UK’s position as a science and research superpower. Any changes to the graduate route will affect every university and region in the UK.”

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Dr Tim Bradshaw, CEO of the Russell Group said: “A thriving university sector is critical to the UK’s R&D efforts, and ultimately to the growth of our economy and our global standing. Partnerships between universities and businesses are creating jobs and generating growth across all regions of the UK, delivering great returns on public investment.

“Placing further restrictions on international students would cause unnecessary damage to our R&D infrastructure and our economy, leading the UK to lose out on global talent and skills, as well as the tuition fee income that helps to educate UK students and fund vital research.”

Professor Jane Harrington, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Greenwich and Chair of University Alliance said: “International students add £37 billion to the UK economy every year in education exports and cross-subsidise UK research to the tune of £5bn. If the graduate route is restricted, UK universities will become less globally competitive, and the government would need to find ways of covering the significant losses to research funding and wider export income caused by declining international student numbers. This would be an extraordinary economic own goal.

“Together with business, we are urging the Chancellor to protect the considerable investments the Treasury has made in R&D, and to prioritise the longer-term impacts for our country.