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The 2016 Annual Gladwyn Lecture


Re-establishing the glass ceiling!

Lorb Bilimoria, this year’s guest presenter of the Gladwyn Lecture, provided an eloquent and captivating presentation exploring the multiple likely impacts, on the UK generally and UK’s university and research sectors in particular, of two major government policy changes – Brexit and the restrictive visa regime that directly affected students and foreign academics. He illustrated and explained his arguments through many examples, including personal anecdotes.

Three generations of his family had come to the UK from India to study; all had been greatly influenced by their experience and he had chosen to settle in Britain. He had observed at first hand how the UK had moved from seemingly a lost and tired country in the 70s and 80s, to becoming a global player 30 years later: meritocratic, aspirational, entrepreneurial, dynamic and outward looking. There were no barriers to anyone succeeding in the new Britain, whatever their race, ethnicity or religion - the glass ceiling had been shattered.

And he placed UK universities at the centre of these positive changes. Campuses had expanded and internationalised, with large numbers of international researchers recruited, new and high impact global research partnerships established and with nearly half a million international students enrolled.
Research output from UK universities is of top international repute with many Nobel winners and innovations that include the worldwide web, graphene and the measurement of gravitational waves.  But UK government research funding, already low in comparison with other EU countries, the US, China and South Korea, had at least been supplemented by EU research funding. The ability of UK university teams to win EU research funding was second to none and, if it is to keep driving forward, UK research needs these resources, and it must also continue to attract top researchers.

Even the prospect of BREXIT is already undermining both access to funds and the movement of people.

International students contribute over £16 billion directly to the UK economy, and indirectly more if they stay on to work or grow future research and business links, based on their UK networks. Over 150,000 students are currently recruited from the EU and this will inevitably decline when EU students are required to follow the same visa regime as all other international students. This is the same regime that has already resulted in so many international students turning from the UK and seeking other destinations – not just the US and Australia but also Germany, Netherlands, France and Sweden (all of whom have positive and welcoming policies for international students).

To get back on track, UK government policies need to change; this includes removing international students from net migration targets and allowing students access to post-study work experience. Both policies that UKs’ competitors have in place.

An invidious side of Brexit has been the growth of an anti-foreigner mentality, which Lord Bilimoria said he had experienced for the first time in 2016; he had received racist hate mail – through emails, blogs, tweet and the regular mail. He was concerned that the positive changes in the UK he had observed over 30 years would now be reversed as Brexit and immigration policies will likely increase international barriers and stir prejudice.
There was a very lively and well-informed Q&A session – consternation was expressed as to why university and HE sector leaders were so reluctant to publicly address such concerns.

Lord Biliomoria finished by reading ‘Where The Mind Is Without Fear’ by Tagore. An extract:

‘Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls ………..’

Dr Neil Kemp OBE, CEC Board Member



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