A leading academic who said Brexit would dramatically reduce the British university sector’s standing in global rankings has admitted the claim was “plucked out of the air”.
The claims of Professor Michael Arthur, vice-chancellor of University College London, made for a series of anti-Brexit headlines.
He said that after leaving the European Union (EU), Britain could plummet from “second in the world to 20th” in higher education and research.
Asked about the potential impact of introducing a visa scheme for EU academics at the Commons Brexit committee, he said:
“In 20 years’ time, instead of being second in the world to the United States of America, I’m worried that we will be 20th or so… and part [of the reason] will be this insidious onset of inability to recruit the world’s greatest talent.”
Tory MP Richard Graham hit back, accusing him of “hyperbole” and insisted he back up the claim.
Professor Arthur replied: “I will confess I plucked the number 20th out of the air. I don’t know, but I do fear we could slip down those international league tables. The honest answer is none of us know what the impact will be.”
Professor Michael Arthur, who chairs the Russell Group’s EU advisory panel, confesses to the Brexit Select Committee that he ‘plucked out of the air’ his gloomy forecast on UK universities’ rankings. #projectfearcontinues pic.twitter.com/LCUuu1xBEp
— Jacob Rees-Mogg (@Jacob_Rees_Mogg) May 16, 2018
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Tory MP and leading Brexiteer, criticised the “gloomy forecast” on social media.
He indicated it represented a return to so-called “project fear”, whereby anti-Brexit campaigners made unsubstantiated claims that leaving the EU would be a disaster.
Mr. Rees-Mogg added: “It is surprising that a highly esteemed professor just makes things up as he goes along when appearing in front of a House of Common select committee.
“It shows the lack of intellectual rigour of Project Fear and a disdain for democratic accountability.”
Tory MP and former cabinet minister John Whittingdale, meanwhile, insisted that students from around the globe are still “attracted by the excellence of [British] universities”.
Continuing, he said: “Shouldn’t your sector look at this as an opportunity to obtain additional revenue?”