Professor Michael Arthur from University College London, who chairs the Russell Group of elite universities EU group, had claimed that UK seats of learning would plunge from second best in the world league table on research behind America to 20th.
But pressed on the claim during a Brexit committee hearing in the Commons, Professor Arthur said: “I will confess I plucked a number out of the air.
“I don’t know but I do fear we could slip down those international league tables.”
The admission by the leading Brexit critic drew a sharp rebuke from Tory MP and committee member Jacob Rees Mogg.
He said: “It is surprising that a highly esteemed professor just makes things up as he goes along when appearing in from of a House of Common select committee.
“It shows the lack of intellectual rigour of Project Fear and a disdain for democratic accountability.”
The claims about the university sector being hit by Brexit has been a key part of the Remainer Project Fear campaign to scare people into rejecting Brexit.
But pressed on a series of issues by the committee, Professor Arthur was forced to admit that leaving the EU means that universities can charge higher fees from European students and will no longer discriminate against students from the rest of the world including poorer students from Africa.
He also admitted that despite claims EU students will stop applying to come to Britain because of the uncertainty of Brexit there had been a 15 per cent increase at his own university this year.
This undermined suggestions that the 2.3 per cent of university income which comes from EU students will be put at risk.
Tory MP and former cabinet minister John Whittingdale pointed out that students from around the world are “attracted by the excellence of [British] universities.”
He said: “Shouldn’t your sector look at this as an opportunity to obtain additional revenue?”
Professor Arthur also told MPs that he has been involved in talks in Brussels about the future of cooperation between British universities and EU institutions.
He also revealed that the EU institutions including the commissioner for the sector are “enthusiastic” about maintaining British links and involvement after Brexit, undermining Remainer claims that the UK would be cut off.
He said “We have strong support for continued British involvement in Europe.”
He said that the European Commission sees Britain as a “leading” candidate for its future plans for deep cooperation with countries outside the EU.
Professor Arthur added that it was “crucial” to be re-invited to be involved with university cooperation immediately once Britain leaves the EU.
Source : EXPRESS