Your Questions Answered: Brexit

Westminster Abbey with UK and EU flags

Since the UK voted to leave the European Union, there has been much discussion about the repercussions. We’ve scoured Quora (the question-and-answer site), to round up some of the most compelling questions.

What effect will Brexit have on higher education in the UK?

Union Jack and black boardAs of yet, it’s still unclear how the vote will affect higher education in the UK. The answer will depend predominantly on how the UK government chooses to handle the departure, in addition to how the rest of the EU decides to handle the situation.

There are positive as well as negative possibilities; the likelihood is we will see a combination of the two.

Staff

A significant proportion of higher education staff in the UK are nationals of the European Union. The uncertainty about their status in the country (exacerbated by the current prime minister’s refusal to assure them of their right to remain) is making some consider opportunities elsewhere. This is a worrying development for the sector, as it suggests that the country could experience a ‘brain drain’, as the best and brightest turn abroad. This could harm the quality of both teaching and research in UK universities, as until now they’ve been able to freely recruit the best academics from across the continent.

Students

Students walkingAdditionally, there are a number of reports suggesting that international students would be less likely to choose the UK as a study destination post-Brexit. However, there are conflicting trends, with students in some regions actually attracted by the falling value of the pound.

If rising fees and drawn-out visa processes make it difficult for EU students to study in the UK, many may turn to other EU countries. Considering that EU students graduate with better grades than their British counterparts, this could harm not only the standing of UK universities and research, but also the labour market, as high-achieving graduates are hired elsewhere.

Research

Scientific researcherIn the lead up to the vote, we spoke about how much the UK receives in research funds from the EU – it’s disproportionately higher than the amount the UK pays in. Much of the country’s research is reliant on these funds, and while it is possible that the money the UK saves on EU membership could be channelled into university research, that scenario does not seem likely. The current government has not placed much importance on publicly funding higher education.

Furthermore, there are already reports of UK universities being shunned from EU research due to the uncertainty. While the evidence is anecdotal at best, it certainly doesn’t stretch the limits of the imagination, and it seems likely that this may continue to occur until a clear pathway is put in place and the insecurity settles.

Once the UK has left the EU, access to EU programmes, unless the UK can become an affiliated partner, will be restricted. When Switzerland voted to restrict freedom of movement, it was subsequently frozen out of Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020, along with a number of other EU programmes. In the short term at least, it’s likely the UK will face a similar situation – especially if the government opts not for a Norway-style freedom-of-movement system, but a points-based immigration system.

Should international students from outside of the EU continue going to the UK for higher education after Brexit?

There’s no reason why Brexit should directly impact students from outside the EU. In fact, in the short term it may actually be beneficial as the falling pound offers better value for money.

British universities are still among the best in the world, and will likely continue to offer a world class education, despite the short-term uncertainties.

Should international students from the EU continue going to the UK for higher education after Brexit?

Westminster Abbey with the UK and EU flagsNothing has changed yet for students from the EU, and indeed for those who would like to study in the UK, now may be the best time to apply. Once Britain leaves it’s probable that tuition fees for EU students will be raised to an international level – much higher than they currently stand – and that the UK government will no longer offer loans to EU students. It is highly unlikely, however, that those already studying would have their tuition fees raised during their course of study.

It is also possible that universities across the UK could continue offering domestic fee rates to EU students, in exchange for reciprocal agreements from EU universities, although currently this is just conjecture.

The pro-EU status of the university sector should at least go some way to reassuring EU students that the higher education industry will continue lobbying on their behalf.

How will the result affect British students?

Union Jack notebook with headphonesThe number of UK students who travel to the EU to study is much smaller than the number who come to the UK, and the largest destination for UK students by far is actually the US. While those who wish to study abroad in the EU will be affected – in some cases facing higher fees, more stringent visa requirements, and reduced rights to seek employment – it won’t be to the same extent as students from the EU who wish to study in the UK.

Where the issue may be more significant is with programmes such as Erasmus+, from which the nation may be excluded. The opportunity to study part of a degree in another European country is a popular choice for UK students, and unless the country is able to negotiate entry to the programme it may no longer be possible.

Additionally, if the sector suffers in general due to Brexit, this will have a direct impact on British students – potentially affecting the diversity of their campus communities, the academics and research opportunities they have access to, and even the labour market they join after graduating.

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