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Universities stand up for EU migrants as review unfolds

University groups have welcomed a government review into the migration of European Union nationals to the UK, pledging to make the case for the importance of EU staff and students to the research and higher-education system.

Amber Rudd, the home secretary, yesterday commissioned the independent Migration Advisory Committee to undertake a review examining the role of EU nationals in the UK economy and society.

In a press release, the Home Office said that a major aspect of the study would be to look at how the UK migration system could be “aligned with a modern industrial strategy”, a leading initiative of this government.

Responding to the announcement, vice-chancellors' group Universities UK (UUK) said there was “now an opportunity to make sure that a reshaped, post-Brexit immigration system encourages talented European and international staff and students to choose the UK.”

Similarly, the Russell Group of research-intensive universities said in a statement that it was necessary to provide “clarity as soon as possible to help universities and individuals plan for the future”.

Both UUK and the Russell Group praised Rudd’s assertion that there would be an implementation period to introduce any policy changes proposed in the study. Rudd said she did not want to create a Brexit ‘cliff edge’ for employers or staff.

UUK said that 17 per cent of academic staff at UK universities were from other EU countries at present, and more than 125,000 EU students were studying at UK universities.

In a separate news release UUK highlighted a recent Office for Statistics Regulation publication that reiterated widespread concerns that the UK was ignoring the positive impact EU students have on the UK economy and was misusing data obtained from the International Passenger Survey.

On the BBC’s Newsnight programme on 27 July, commentators suggested that this review had been expected much earlier, but had been blocked by the prime minister's now departed senior advisers Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy.

 

UK > Politics

 

Scotland and Wales plot changes to EU repeal bill

Ministers from the Scottish and Welsh governments have met in Cardiff to discuss mutual concerns about the UK government’s recently published bill to transfer all EU law to Westminster.

In a press release dated 27 July, the day of the meeting, the Scottish government said the ministers would focus on how to alter the bill so that it protected the powers of the devolved administrations, rather than letting powers be “taken back by the UK government, as the bill currently proposes”.

Scotland’s Brexit minister Michael Russell described the bill at present as “quite simply an attack on the hard-won powers of the Scottish Parliament and on the principles of devolution”.

Welsh finance minister Mark Drakeford said he looked forward to discussing the bill with Russell.

He said, “We want to help the UK government to find a way out of the mess in which it finds itself and we will come to the table constructively to discuss UK frameworks that may be necessary when the UK leaves the EU.”

A core concern for the devolved nations is that the bill effectively removes responsibilities for policy areas such as health and education from devolved administrations.

However, concluding a two-day tour of Scotland, junior Brexit minister Robin Walker, denied that Brexit would remove powers from the regions.

In a statement he said: "The UK government is continuing to have intensive discussions with the devolved administrations, which will identify where we need to retain common frameworks and what these should be.

"As part of the process, it is expected that there will be a significant increase in the decision-making power of each devolved administration."

 

We’re evolving our Clinical Study Groups into three Research Advisory Groups to engage the scientific, clinical and patient communities to interact with our newly established Disease, Treatment and Health subcommittees and the charity. We’re establishing these in the fields of: Inflammatory arthritis; Autoimmune rheumatic disease; Musculoskeletal disorders. Posts start autumn 2017, initially for three years.

 

UK > Research Councils

 

BBSRC restates strategy on food and agriculture, to inform UKRI

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council has published a document to remind researchers and policymakers its priorities in agriculture and food security.

A document explaining the BBSRC's Agriculture and Food Security Strategic Framework, designed to outline the main areas of interest to the council, was published on 27 July. 

In an accompanying press release Paul Burrows, BBSRC's executive director for corporate policy and strategy, said that the council was committed to a vision for what he called a "whole food systems" approach to research in order to deliver its missions of "productivity, resilience and sustainable farming". 

The council's priorities also include: using technologies, such as genome sequencing to improve crop and animal species; increasing farm yields without further harming biodiversity; and finding more efficient ways to find and use water. 

As much of this is interdisciplinary work, the document is likely to be closely read by officials involved in the design of UK Research and Innovation, where it will be seen as a statement of the BBSRC's ambitions inside the newly merged super-council.

The UK also has a cross-council and cross-government research programme called Global Food Security, which includes all of the research councils except for the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

The BBSRC says it has spent £1 billion on agriculture and food security over the past decade, and £125 million during 2015-16.

 

UK > Universities

 

Nature highlights reluctance to tackle sexual misconduct in labs

An editorial in the journal Nature has criticised the low priority that many institutions give to tackling sexual harassment in their science departments.

The editorial, published on 26 July, builds on remarks made at the International Conference on Women in Physics held in Birmingham earlier this month, where speakers said that a desire to protect the reputations of staff and institutions meant that misconduct was being allowed to continue.

A UK-wide survey aiming to understand the scale of the problem is being put together by the National Union of Students for publication in 2018. But universities should not wait for the results, Nature said, instead they should confront the problem head on.

“To pretend an institution is immune does not make it look good,”  the editorial concluded.

 

UK > Charities & Societies

 

Equality and leadership agency merger advances

Proposals to create a single agency from the Equality Challenge Unit, the Higher Education Academy and the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education are moving forward.

A shadow board has been created to guide the merger of the three agencies, as envisioned in David Bell’s January review of higher-education agencies.

Writing in a blog post on WonkHE on 24 July, Nigel Carrington, vice-chancellor of the University of the Arts London and chairman of the shadow board, put a positive spin on the merger, highlighting the opportunities the move would present.

It is likely that the agency will be funded via a subscription model that would allow higher-education institutions to pay for services relevant to them. Carrington said the merged agency would plan “new ventures and innovations” as well as “uniting areas of overlapping activity”.

Overlap between the three agencies was a chief criticism in the Bell review, which proposed that one central agency could lead work on equality and diversity, learning and teaching, and leadership and management.

In a statement on 26 July, the Leadership Foundation praised Carrington’s blog post for the transparency it brought to the merger process.

However one commentator on Carrington’s WonkHE blog was less impressed calling out Carrington’s use of what he called “meaningless ‘management speak’ and empty phrases”.

The merged organisation is expected to be fully operational for the 2018-19 financial year.

 

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