UK universities call for continued global outlook after Brexit

As the result of the EU referendum becomes clear, the UK’s international education institutions are considering the impact of the country’s vote to leave the EU.

oxford university, Brexit
In the lead up to the EU referendum UK Universities warned of the impact on student numbers from the EU following changes to immigration laws, the implications of changes to EU university grants and the UK’s membership of the Erasmus student mobility programme.According to Universities UK there were around 125,000 students from the EU at UK higher education institutions in the academic year 2013/14 with Germany, France, Ireland, Italy and Greece representing the highest numbers.As a member of the EU, Britain was able to offer students from the EU similar priviledges as domestic students, such as equal fees and access to student loans. Following the UK’s exit from the EU, universities could restructure their offers to students from the EU in line with international student fees which are significantly higher.

Brexit challenges for UK’s Universities

Commenting on the outcome of the UK’s decision to leave the EU, Dame Julia Goodfellow, President of Universities UK believes that the decision will create significant challenges for universities.“Although this is not an outcome that we wished or campaigned for, we respect the decision of the UK electorate,” she said. “Throughout the transition period our focus will be on securing support that allows our universities to continue to be global in their outlook, internationally networked and an attractive destination for talented people from across Europe. These features are central to ensuring that British universities continue to be the best in the world.”

Global student mobility following Brexit

The uncertainty over the impact of changes to immigration laws in the potential restrictions on the movement of students around the European Union is also causing concern among education leaders and commentators in the aftermath of the UK’s decision to leave the EU.“Our first priority will be to convince the UK Government to take steps to ensure that staff and students from EU countries can continue to work and study at British universities in the long term and to promote the UK as a welcoming destination for the brightest and best minds,” said Dame Julia Goodfellow. “They make a powerful contribution to university research and teaching and have a positive impact on the British economy and society. We will also prioritise securing opportunities for our researchers and students to access vital pan-European programmes and build new global networks.”It is not clear what will happen to the Erasmus programme, which offers academic exchange opportunities for students from within the European Union. More than 15,000 students from the UK participated in the programme in 2013-14 demonstrating the global outlook of many of the UK’s domestic students.

An end to university funding from the EU?

Relocate Global previously reported on university research funding from the EU, which currently supports more than 19,000 jobs at British educational institutions or in industries benefiting from research activities.  Clearly there will be a question mark over the future of that funding following Brexit.In advance of the referendum, Dame Julia Goodfellow highlighted the benefits of the UK’s membership of the EU and the related education funding. "EU research funding helps our universities to thrive,” she said, “enabling UK researchers to collaborate with the best minds from across the EU in order to tackle global problems, from cancer to climate change.”In an impassioned open letter from university leaders in the week before the referendum signatories wrote, “Every year, universities generate over £73 billion for the UK economy - £3.7bn of which is generated by students from EU countries, while supporting nearly 380,000 jobs. Strong universities benefit the British people - creating employable graduates and cutting-edge research discoveries that improve lives.”The European University Association, a group representing universities across Europe has delivered a positive statement following the successful result for the Leave campaign.“Regardless of the result, British universities are - and remain - an essential part of the European family of universities, which extends beyond EU borders,” said a EUA spokesperson. “This community of knowledge and learning is strong and longstanding, and it will surely overcome this crisis, although the questions and consequences of the British exit are certainly formidable. EUA will continue to work with and for British universities. The Europe of universities will not be divided!”

International competition for EU students

The popularity of a British English language independent education has increased in recent years and the Independent School Council reported in their annual census earlier this year that there are over 14,000 students from the EU studying within the country’s 2000 plus independent schools.The impact of the referendum on the UK’s schools market is unclear, but international commentators have expressed their views on the impact on competition for international student numbers.Phil Honeywood, executive director of the International Education Association of Australia, believes that Brexit will be “great news” for Australia. “We are competing directly with the Brits for foreign students who want to study in an English language environment,” he said. “One huge advantage that British universities and private schools have over us has been a guaranteed market from continental Europe, and if they turn their back then we will be at the front of the queue to welcome those students.”It is clear that, as international financial markets respond to the historic news of the UK’s decision to leave the EU, corporations and international assignees with a stake in the UK’s relationship to the European market will be entering a period of movement and upheaval.But as Relocate Managing Editor Fiona Murchie said in her speech to the global mobility managers, HR managers and relocation professionals at the recent Relocate Global Awards, the profession is, “agile, flexible and innovative,” and uniquely positioned to manage the challenges that face international assignees and their families.

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