Blog: general election

13 June 2017

Russell Group senior communications officer Adam Clarke blogs on the fallout from GE2017.

What does the election result mean for universities?

This time last week, few political observers thought that Theresa May would be trying to win the support of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to keep her in Downing Street.

There are still big questions over how sustainable the current situation will be, but a hung parliament is the result that the people have delivered. The question that many within the higher education sector are asking is what this means for universities?

Brexit is perhaps the issue that looms largest on the horizon for universities. Already we have seen many people suggest that this election result will mean the Prime Minister will have to step back from a hard Brexit. There has been speculation that this could open the door to a change in the UK position on the single market and the customs union.

The new parliamentary arithmetic means that the Government will have to tread carefully. While the DUP backed Brexit, elements of their manifesto suggest they prefer a softer Brexit. As well as a frictionless border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, they call for new arrangements on the free movement of people, goods and services, and recognise the importance of EU research collaboration.

These are all things that UK universities would endorse, though with formal talks due to start next week, the uncertainty that we are now facing is cause for concern.

On domestic issues, we can expect Parliament to flex its muscles on a whole range of policies to try and defeat the Government. The Opposition now has a far better chance of winning votes in the House of Commons which means the Government may be forced into compromises.

There have already been reports that cross-party talks are underway to try and thwart the Government. We can expect to see more of this when work at Westminster starts in earnest.

Before the end of the last session there was a concerted effort in the House of Lords to remove students from the scope of the net migration target. This is a change that has the support of MPs from all sides of the House. Theresa May’s new chief of staff is one of those who has called for a change of tone on student immigration in the past.

If the Prime Minister softens her position on this issue, this would be a clear indication that she recognises that we are now in a very different political environment. A good deal for international students would be welcomed by UK higher education.

There are also areas where the parties are closer, and there might be scope to deliver positive change on a cross-party basis. The Conservative manifesto set out plans for a roadmap to 3% of GDP to be spent on research. The Labour and Lib Dem manifestos also recognised the importance of investing in this area.

This is an opportunity for universities. It is difficult to say how the current situation will develop but this is a real chance to make the case for increased support for research and secure a positive outcome for UK science.

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