We must fight to keep students coming to the UK and Liverpool

John Morres Uni

A new lecture block at Liverpool John Moore’s University. Just one of our Universities that we need to fight for in the student numbers debate

During the referendum campaign last year those of us on the Remain side continually raised the problems which would be caused to our Universities if we leave the EU.

This will have three main effects:

  • It will reduce the number of post graduate and undergraduate students;
  • It will reduce the amount of research activities and positions.
  • It will reduce the numbers of overseas lecturers and professors.

All of these effects are bad for the City:

Every student that studies full time in Liverpool is worth about £19,000 to the Liverpool economy. They pay not only fees to the three Universities but live here paying rent, buying food; drink and entertainments. We currently have about 68,000 students in the City. Of these approximately 11,000 of them are from other Countries.

Current projections are for a reduction of at least 10% in the number of university students generally in the UK. The reduction in numbers has already started with a lower take up last year and this year than in 2015. If we were to lose just 5% of the student numbers that will mean 3,400 less students in Liverpool and our economy will be hit to the tune of £64.6 million. That means a loss somewhere in the Liverpool economy of about 1,500 jobs. Double those figures to the 10% reduction anticipated and we are talking about a major blow to our economy.

The figures are not so precise about the research situation. Research works in two ways. Through pan-EU collaboration in which our Universities lead or follow research programmes but in either case get part of the action. Then the Erasmus exchanges which often bring in students who either initially or subsequently bring in research of value to themselves and their universities.

This research can lead to jobs directly with the research positions paying above median wages. They can also create jobs at a later stage when spin-offs develop from the research.

Lastly our Universities need to be part of a pool of talent in which the best in the world can come to our institutions to maintain their eminence and position. Knowledge knows no boundaries. These are people who can and will work anywhere and everywhere.

That is why the recent revelations about student numbers are so important. We were told in the referendum that 100,000 foreign students a year disappeared and stayed working in our economy taking jobs from deserving Brits. Such statements could be made because the Labour Government stopped collecting exit data in 2009. In the coalition government, the Lib Dems got the exit data research re started and lo and behold the figure was way out. Less than 5% of students overstay their visas and disappear in the British economy. I find that quite sad. I wish more of them would stay!

So, the British Government has been making wrong assumptions about students with a reckless disregard for facts; with a reckless disregard for the fate of our academic institutions and a reckless disregard for the economy and the damage that will be done to our balance of payments if we reduce the number of young, bright people coming here.

With just months to go before final discussions have to take place about be free movement of talent and labour the Government has announced an enquiry into the figures and the potential effects of the reduction of under and post-graduate students. Better now than never but why has it taken so long for the Government to realise the bleeding obvious?

Liverpool needs those students just as the wider UK economy needs those students. We have a particular problem. There is already a huge overhang of student apartments in the City and more are being proposed every day. We agreed 180 units at this morning’s planning committee. Who is going to live in those apartments and units? If they do fill up what will happen to the traditional student houses in the terraces of Kensington, Picton and Toxteth?

The answer to this is incredibly simple and very practical. As we know that 95% of these people go home let’s stop counting them in the first place. See them, for this purpose, as an economic unit and not a person.

If there are concerns about some of these people coming on fake courses at dodgy institutions deal with those issues. Close down the offending institutions. Send back those who have lied to get here. Deal with the 5% without putting at risk the 95%

But do not blame the Universities of Liverpool – Liverpool, John Moore’s and Hope which are highly responsible and respected organisations. Do not damage our economy; do not damage our reputation. Make decisions based on facts and not on prejudiced misinformation. Keep those students coming!


About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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