Vice-Chancellor warns of academic brain drain

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Vice-Chancellor Andrew Hamilton has warned University staff of the “serious risk” to the future of UK higher education in the wake of student visa restrictions.

Seizing the opportunity at his annual oration, Professor Hamilton highlighted the lack of financial support for UK higher education institutions. He said: “It is dispiriting to say the least to learn that the share of GDP the UK spends on higher education has fallen to 1.2%, thereby pushing it still further down the OECD index and further behind the international average. And this while public expenditure on universities elsewhere is expanding. When other governments are ramping up investment in higher education, particularly for research, treading water will not be enough.”

He contrasted this with the example of China, “which has a project to make two universities – Tsinghua and Beida – among the best in the world, investing over $280 million per institution per year in pursuit of that goal.”

Besides commenting on the government funding cuts, Professor Hamilton also said that the tightening of visa rules poses a “serious risk” to the “academic health” of the University.

“Difficulties over visa applications as a result of current regulations and restrictions – and I could detail a number of examples from recent months – threatens to affect adversely the academic health of the university.”

Drawing from his previous experience as Provost of Yale University, the post- 9/11 tightening of student visas caused a major 20 per cent slump in applications to study in the US.

“Restricting the free flow of the brightest and best academics and students is an area where heeding the experience of the US may serve us well.”

In particular, he cited the merits research students bring to the University as “engines of ground breaking experimentation”. He added, “The health of the UK’s research base depends critically on the supply of talented graduates. Just as they are drawn to working here with leading academics, so too are we able to recruit the best academics because of the quality of Oxford’s research students.”

In spite of Oxford’s “quality”, Professor Hamilton pointed out that on average, about half of the university’s postgraduates receive a full scholarship.

In contrast, several overseas universities have been offering “five star packages” to these “bright students” This has compelled many of them to turn down an Oxford postgraduate offer.

This has resulted in an academic brain drain: “Sadly there are too many examples of Oxford losing bright graduate students to overseas universities because of the funding gap.”