Welcome to the spring edition of Higher Education Today, looking at current topics and questions facing higher education institutions.

In each edition we feature content from key members of our Higher Education legal and regulatory team. If you would like further details about these individuals or information about the wider Higher Education team please see our Higher Education brochure.

We are delighted that in this edition, two of our recent Higher Education webinar presenters, Harriet Murray Jones and Tijen Ahmet, are sharing their thoughts following their respective presentations on decarbonising University estates and immigration challenges in Higher Education.

We hope you find the newsletter interesting and helpful.

Virginia and Ashley
Joint Department Heads for Higher Education

Decarbonising your University Estate

Harriet Murray Jones, an Energy Partner specialising in Property, considers some of the options that Higher Education Institutions have in relation to the decarbonisation of their estates. 

As a Higher Education Institution we know you are going to be very conscious of the pledge made to Net Zero and how quickly the clock seems to be ticking.

It no longer seems that the question is: why would you decarbonise? That question broadly answers itself; not just in terms of the climate, but also the reduction in long term costs and the values of your students. However, the underlying questions remain: how to do it and how to pay for it?

The approach taken by Higher Education Institutions will vary depending on the actual estate of your institution. If you have lots of land then maybe you can invest in a solar array. If you have a largely Victorian city based estate then you may be looking predominantly at retro fitting. However, recent projects have shown how well roof top solar and ground source heat can be deployed even where space is restricted.
The solution is ultimately likely to be a combination of renewable technologies together with battery storage, smart use of space, retrofitting and maybe new buildings. It is important to remember heat as well as energy generation.

For those who have not started on the decarbonisation journey, the very first thing you must do is calculate the cost of reducing your current carbon footprint. AUDE, BUFDG and EAUC have jointly launched a Cost of Net Zero calculator, which is a useful tool for anyone undertaking this exercise. You can find the Net Zero Calculator Tool here.

There are, of course, significant funding issues with any major decarbonisation project, even though it is understood that investment now will generate a long term saving.

We have seen recent examples of very successful ventures with private developers and local authorities. Engage with others around you, as they are trying to achieve the same thing. Decarbonising can happen both on a campus level, but also on a city or regional level.

For more information about this topic please listen to our recent webinar, ‘Decarbonising your estate - what are the options and how to pay for them’, where Harriet Murray Jones from our Energy Group and Roli Martin, Managing Director of Global City Futures, covered these issues and a number of case examples. Alternatively, please contact Harriet Murray Jones on Harriet.MurrayJones@bevanbrittan.com

Immigration Challenges in Higher Education

Tijen Ahmet, a Legal Director specialising in immigration, considers the challenges from the recent immigration measures to the Higher Education sector.

In our webinar on 20 March 2024, ‘Immigration Challenges in Higher Education’, we explored the recent UK immigration challenges for Higher Education Institutions, many of which hold Home Office sponsor licences to recruit overseas staff and enrol international students.

The Government’s aim to reduce net migration to the UK by 300,000 people has triggered significant changes to the sponsorship system from 4 April 2024. At the start of 2024, international students in the UK were the target of immigration policy changes with restrictions on switching into work routes and limits on their ability to bring dependant family members while they study in the UK being introduced. To add to these confines, the rising costs of visa fees (including the annual immigration health surcharge from 6 February to £776 for students and £1,035 for skilled workers), coupled with the review of the popular Graduate visa route, means that international students will be disproportionately affected and may be deterred from selecting the UK as an international study destination. With the Higher Education sector still reliant on fees from international students (accounting for an estimated 35% of UK University total fee income), these policy changes put further pressure on the Higher Education sector at a time when Universities are grappling with other financial challenges.

Significant changes to the sponsorship system include increasing the minimum salary threshold for skilled workers from £26,200 to £38,700. This increase is likely to cause challenges for UK Universities recruiting skilled academics, who may no longer qualify for sponsorship under the new rules. In more positive news, the new salary rates will not apply to those already in the skilled worker route before the rule change; skilled workers can continue to be paid pre-April 2024 salary rates if extending their visa, or applying to settle. Furthermore, for now the “new entrant” discounts to salary thresholds will still apply to those at the early stages of their career, such as early career researchers who are vital in Universities.

The heightened scrutiny on compliance for sponsor licence holders and the tripling of the Home Office civil penalty for illegal working from 13 February to £60,000 per illegal worker, demonstrate that the 1,400 plus education institutions that sponsor students and the 200 plus education institutions that recruit skilled staff must be proactive and have a robust approach to compliance in order to avoid operational, financial and reputational risks and consequences.

Immigration is and will continue to be a key issue for the major parties who are under pressure to reduce net migration to the UK, ahead of the UK’s General Election expected later this year. Irrespective of the political outcome, it is imperative that the Higher Education sector continues to be alert and prepared for further change in the year ahead.

For support with compliance of sponsor licence visit our website at Sponsor Licences | Bevan Brittan LLP or contact Tijen Ahmet from our immigration team on tijen.ahmet@bevanbrittan.com

Say hello to us

Our Higher Education team is attending and speaking at a number of in-person and online events over the next few months, please follow the link for details. If you are also at these events, please come and say hello to us. 

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