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Academic and creative sectors are under threat if we lose free movement within Europe

4 min read

The Government must immediately offer a proper visa route for research and creative sectors, ensuring we foster a welcoming academic culture and encourage growing talent in the face of Brexit, writes The Earl of Clancarty. 

There is currently a serious concern that both academic and cultural interests are being affected by increasingly severe rulings by the Home Office.

The roots of this concern lie in the introduction into the UK in 2005 of an Australian-style points-based immigration system, which - like universal credit – was designed to be simpler for administrators but became considerably more complicated and problematic for users.

The new regulations were introduced without debate in Parliament.

This prompted a 10,000 strong petition (a large number before online petitions got going) against the effect of the regulations on short-term visits by artists and musicians. Following meetings between the Home Office and the Manifesto Club, the author Kamila Shamsie, Lord Clement-Jones and myself, the introduction of the permitted paid engagement scheme offered some improvement for short term visits by creative artists.

However, significant problems continue to arise as, for example, the recent refusal of entry to two blind musicians from India, causing an important programme addressing barriers faced by the disabled to be cancelled.

The situation is becoming especially acute in the university sector with numerous academics, particularly from middle-eastern and African countries, refused entry, despite full sponsorship. In June this year Alison Phipps, UNESCO Chair in Refugee Integration and Professor of Languages and Intercultural Studies at Glasgow University, heavily criticised government policy, and said that she will not host further conferences in the UK.

There is a concern that some universities will scale down their ambitions for conferences. More worryingly still, other countries might start to see the UK as a location to avoid for hosting global conferences.

There have also been a litany of cases this year of disturbing, even inhumane treatment of academics from abroad currently based in the UK.

American academic Elizabeth Ford was informed without any prior warning that after eight years researching music history at Glasgow University she had to leave the country within two weeks.

Amber Murrey, also from America, was offered a professorship in geography at Oxford University, but then told that she cannot be joined by her two young children.

Dr Furaha Asani a researcher in respiratory sciences, is shockingly facing deportation to the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country from which her father fled over fifty years ago, whose language she cannot speak and which she has never visited. The University of Leicester has issued a strongly worded statement in support of Asani, saying that it was ‘very disappointed in hearing the Home Office ruling’.

Something that the Government could do immediately is to offer a proper visa route for researchers.

More generally, there is clearly a disconnect between the interests of universities and the actions of the Home Office. This needs to be urgently addressed by the Government if they wish to foster a welcoming academic culture and develop - not block - the pipeline of talent.

There is the further concern that current problems are a sign of worse to come if Brexit means that we lose the freedom of movement within Europe which every other EEA country will retain. Not to mention the extra work that would then be piled on the Home Office.

The academic and creative sectors both share the requirements of cross border movement and direct person to person (or person to audience) contact. The importance of this is impossible to underestimate - and it is threatened.

The Government need to listen to the specific concerns about likely restrictions raised by the Incorporated Society of Musicians and the Musicians Union. A hard Brexit would make it inevitable that the UK is significantly cut out of the European loop, and that we lose these crucial two-way research and cultural connections.


The Earl of Clancarty is a Crossbench Member of the House of Lords. 

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