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Brexit and UK Higher Education – the Pros and Cons

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Before I jump on the ubiquitous Yes-or-No-Brexit bandwagon, let me just say that this post isn’t going to be about my personal views on Brexit. I am not going to argue one way or the other about whether the UK should stay in or leave the EU. This is going to be about looking at how our relationship with the EU affects Higher Education (HE) in the UK. What would change if we leave and what would continue if we stay. After reading this, you can make your mind up about which option is better. I am quite sure that anyone who votes on Brexit is not going to only be thinking of the effects on Higher Education, but I believe it is important to make an informed choice.

The most crucial difference with Brexit would be whether we lose the nearly-6% EU student community that now exists in UK HE institutes. Most of these 125,000+ students currently studying in the UK, whose fees come to an excess of £2.27bn and who generated 19,000 jobs for the UK economy, might not have come if they had not received the easy access to stay, funding and admission that came with the EU charter.

However, it is these very things that pro-Brexit people are using as their arguments. They believe that allowing EU students access to admission and funding is not allowing the best international talent to study in the UK. Jamie Martin, a former special adviser to the Department for Education, has said in an article in Prospect magazine http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/politics/universities-higher-education-european-union-brexit-horizon-2020 that “The current visa policy, under which the worst
German student gets automatic access while things are difficult if not impossible for the brilliant Indian scholar, is as morally flawed as it is academically harmful.”

Some pro-Brexiters also believe that the UK taxpayer is subsidising the EU student with reduced fees and that if European students had to pay the full £15,000 international tuition, the UK would make more out of them without needing to give them subsidised loans. Again, according to Jamie Martin, this would end the ‘indefensible’ practise of charging foreign students differently, depending on whether they were EU or non-EU citizens. However, this is not exactly indefensible, as the fact that we are part of the EU makes those students not exactly ‘foreign’ but part of the larger UK/EU community.

In addition, UK students and universities benefit 95a78f3015bd19286b33c65657114fc4_XLfrom Erasmus scholar
ships, where students are allowed to study and work overseas. This especially
affects universities like UCL (University College London) that has the largest number of EU students, as well as other smaller colleges where EU students make up about a quarter of their student bodies. About 20% of UCL staff are EU nationals, and with an Brexit, it could mean that it would be more onerous for them to stay and work in the UK.

A more far-reaching concern is that the UK could lose out on research funding and collaboration. Thus the work the London School of Tropical Medicine is doing with Ebola with several EU countries, or the Graphene research at Manchester that is being funded by the EU might stop. However, considering that the amount the EU puts into UK research is much less than what the UK puts into the EU pot, won’t leaving the EU mean that all this money is freed up for us to use in-house?

It is a difficult issue, and is not just about the bottom line of money and loans. It is also about collaboration, cooperation and preserving our heritage as a nation of world-class universities. That EU students leave their completely-free university systems and come here
to pay £9000 per year shows that we are value and quality for money in the eyes of the world. Would we hold on to that HE reputatoxford-1155172_1920ion better if left the EU or if we stayed in it? Only time will tell.

Do let me know your thoughts. How much does HE play a part in your decision for Brexit or Bremain? How do you think we should vote – more importantly how do you think we will vote?

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