How will the Higher Education sector be impacted by Brexit?
In less than a week, Britain will make a historic decision on whether to stay in or leave the EU. Much ink has been spilled in the last few months over the possible consequences of Brexit. Particular emphasis has been put on the economic side of the argument with ‘Remainers’ stating that Brexit would hurt Britain’s economy. ‘Leavers’, on the other hand, argue that Brexit would free the UK from EU rules and laws. As a result, Britain, so the argument goes, will be able to strike its own trade agreements. Apart from the economic argument, a large number of news articles and op-eds outline the main reasons why Brexit or Bremain would lead to positive or negative outcomes for migration and security.
Very little has, however, been written on the possible consequences of Brexit for the Higher Education sector. British Universities are largely in favour of the UK remaining in the EU. In fact, the possibility of Brexit has united UK Universities like no other matter. In July 2015, for example, Universities UK launched a campaign entitled Universities for Europe which aimed to bring Higher Education at the centre of the UK’s EU membership debate.
So, why is EU membership so important for UK Universities?
- EU membership allows UK Universities to employ the best teaching staff and researchers from across the continent. Many UK Universities are among the leading Higher Education institutions in the world. One of the main reasons this is the case is their ability to attract the most talented staff. EU membership means that successful and talented people from across the Union can easily come and work in the UK and share their knowledge and expertise. The immediate consequence of this is the creation of an excellent reputation for UK Universities.
- EU membership allows UK Universities to apply for and benefit from EU funding for research projects. Every year, large sums of EU funds are being spend on research projects across the UK. These funds allow for a better quality of research as well as for more enhanced EU-wide collaboration as many of these projects are implemented across internal EU borders. Horizon 2020, for example, the largest EU research and innovation programme, entails intensive collaboration between researchers from at least three institutions in different EU Member or Associate Member States. If Britain leaves the EU, then it is probable that UK Universities will not have full access to such research funds.
- Brexit would also pose severe limitations on EU students wishing to study in a UK University as they will no longer be eligible to pay home fees.The consequences of this are twofold. Brexit would not only have a financial impact on UK Universities due to the reduced number of EU students coming to the UK but it would also greatly reduce diversity in classrooms. UK Universities currently attract students from a variety of different countries. As a result, classrooms are quite diverse which, in turn, leads to the creation of an outward looking culture. Brexit, however, would lead to the creation of a much less diverse University environment.
Although there is great uncertainty over what Brexit would actually mean, it is quite probable that its consequences would be severe for the Higher Education sector.
As Universities UK stated, “while no-one is suggesting that UK universities could not survive outside the EU, leaving would mean cutting ourselves off from unique support and established networks and would undermine the UK’s position as a global leader in science, arts and innovation”. If we also consider the consequences for students and their University experience, the conclusion is clear: Brexit would be no good news for Higher Education.