Dame Julia Goodfellow called for a new campaign to promote the UK's world-class higher education sector across the globe. Photo credit: PA
In her keynote speech to university leaders at Universities UK's annual members' conference, Dame Julia Goodfellow, president of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Kent, said that, while the referendum outcome poses significant challenges for UK universities, the sector is well-placed to identify and create opportunities as we plan for life outside the EU.
In her address, Dame Julia Goodfellow said: "In planning for life outside the EU we, like the government, have a vision of a strong post-Brexit Britain with a thriving economy and a fairer society.
The vote to leave the EU poses significant challenges for universities that we need to address, however, we believe that British universities can thrive post-exit with the right support from government.
The UUK annual conference, taking place this year at Nottingham Trent University, is the largest annual gathering of university vice-chancellors, with over 100 university leaders and other key figures from the university sector in attendance. Universities Minister Jo Johnson MP also be addressed delegates during the same conference session on Wednesday morning.
In her speech, she also called for a new approach to immigration and international students and staff, and a new campaign to promote the UK's world-class higher education sector across the globe.
She said: "Reform of the immigration system is long overdue, to recognise the value of international students as temporary visitors and to remove unnecessary barriers for highly-skilled international staff wanting to work at UK universities.
"We make no apologies for continuing to make the strong case for a government-backed campaign to promote the UK's world-class higher education sector across the globe, accompanied by a visa regime that makes clear that international students and staff are welcome and make a highly valued contribution to the British economy and society."
"We must redouble our efforts to promote the values of diversity, tolerance and freedom of speech that make British universities the envy of the world. We are best when we are outward looking, globally networked and welcoming to the world."
Dame Julia said that UK universities remained widely respected around the world and we should use the opportunity to rebuild trust in the UK as a place to invest, a place to create jobs and a place to create international partnerships.
She said: "Universities support the UK's soft power and global partnerships. Many leading international figures are alumni of British universities and our universities are globally connected with businesses, governments, research partners and other universities worldwide."
Addressing the issue of social mobility and participation in higher education, she said that she supported wholeheartedly the government's ambition in this area. She said:"Our new prime minister and our new secretary of state for education lost no time in making social mobility and improved life chances for all a key ambition for the remainder of this parliament.
"I am proud that the work of Universities UK will be contributing to this hugely important issue by analysing current policies and practices, and developing a set of recommendations that seek to ensure that the chance to benefit from a university education, whether as a full-time student, an adult learner or a degree apprentice, is not limited by where you come from, or what your background is.
"The (UUK) Social Mobility Advisory Group…will report this autumn on how universities can improve access and long-term success for underrepresented groups."
On the Higher Education and Research that Bill, being scrutinised currently by MPs, Dame Julia said that it is important to protect the unique features of our universities including their outstanding teaching and their world-leading research.
She said that "where we will be calling for things to be slower, more measured, and evidence-based, is with the introduction of future iterations of the Teaching Excellence Framework to ensure this adds real value for students and the sector."