College Life and Brexit

This briefing on Higher Education and students is the first part of our Europe Evolve programme which looks at the affect Brexit is having on important aspects of life and the, economy, not only in the UK but in the rest of Europe and the world as a whole.

Briefing – Brexit & Higher Education

Why are Universities worried about Brexit?
The main concerns centre around the potential impact on student recruitment and research funding. Although some universities rely more on attracting foreign students and EU grants than others, many universities are vocal about the effect on higher education finances and the very survival of some could be in doubt.

How is it affecting student recruitment?
According to the latest Ucas admissions service figures, UK student applications are down by 4% along with a 5% drop from other EU students wishing to study in Britain. Uncertainty over Brexit and a rise in fees are thought to be the main reasons for this sharp decline. Some like Kaplan International have estimated that the weaker pound could boost foreign numbers (see Kaplan Report) and non EU student applications are up by 2% but it is a risky business relying on the valuation of sterling. Currencies fluctuate and those perceived to be unstable could put students off making, what is in effect, a long term personal investment. Furthermore, students often choose their place of study in anticipation of getting a job in the same country afterwards. With the UK economy slowing faster than almost any other advanced country, combined with tough immigration controls and an end to freedom of movement, new jobs could be hard to come by.

What about research funding?
There should, in theory, be little affect until the UK has formally left the EU. The UK government has committed to underwriting grants for committed projects which run beyond the UK’s departure from the EU. Further hope can be found in the High Level Group chaired by former European Commissioner, Pascal Lamy, which recommended that the UK should be included in future research projects Lamy Report. The picture remains uncertain, however, and many British institutions have already found themselves excluded from new proposals. Many fear that exclusion from programmes such as Horizon 2020 could have a significant effect on Britain’s knowledge-based economy which is heavily dependent on international co-operation. In funding terms alone, it is doubtful that a UK government, wrestling with a large deficit, would make up the shortfall. A dependency on localised funding could also see greater politicisation of funding as demonstrated by Theresa May’s £1.5bn agreement with the DUP to obtain a working majority in parliament.

Uncertainty is worrying. How have Academics reacted?
Not well it seems. A freedom of information request by the Guardian showed a 30% rise in academics leaving the UK. This request didn’t take account those entering the UK but if academics are reflective of other parts of the skill-based economy, the overall trend is likely to towards departure. To put it more succinctly, ‘Brexit means Exit’

How will universities respond?
To remain attractive for attracting students, academics and EU research funding, some have gone public about their plans to diversify and invest in campuses within the EU27 (BBC report on Kings College). More are understood to be planning similar moves and even the University of Oxford was reported to be considering opening in Paris although this has since been denied. Let’s see.

Crikey! Won’t this have a harmful affect on the British economy?
Very likely. As there are universities or higher education colleges in almost every town and city, employing local people and attracting income from students, grants, and sponsorship, the affect across Britain could be severe. For many communities, higher education is the lifeblood, contributing not only to the local economy but also to culture, night life, housing, retail, sport, volunteering, and much more. Even a modest downturn could have a harmful multiplier effect – a major downturn, could be catastrophic.

Okay! Given all the uncertainty, what is the worst case scenario?
A downturn in revenue could cause those universities which are leaden with debt to go bust. There could also be a ‘brain drain’ from the UK where even British students opt to study in countries where the cost of study is lower and the quality of courses are just as high.

But Britain will always be a ‘cool’ place to study, right?
Many feel Brexit has already damaged the British brand, especially from its ‘Cool Britannia’ high-point during the Olympics & Paralympics 2012. How to measure the ‘brand affect’ is something of a ‘hot’ debate – pardon the pun!

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**View slide presentation and summary of i-genius Policy Centre roundtable on Brexit & College Life. Click on below images.

Our thanks to the European Commission London HQ and DeMontfort University for their support.

Read Summary Report | View Presentation

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