How will Brexit affect higher education in the EU?

Ms Theresa MAY, UK Prime Minister.
Location: Bruxelles – BELGIUM
Date: 09/03/2017
Copyright: European Union

This article was exclusively written for the Sting by Mr Minhajul Abedin. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect The European Sting’s view on the topic.

The representative organisation for the United Kingdom’s universities has calculated that between 2012 and 2013, EU citizens comprised about 5.5 percent of the total UK student population, contributing £3.7 billion in the form of fees, accommodation and taxes to the British economy and providing 34,000 jobs – the number has steadily increased ever since. In the longer term, it seems likely that EU students will have to pay higher fee rates that currently apply to those from outside of the EU.

However, those looking on the brighter side have pointed out that the pound’s fall in value, if sustained, will continue to make studying in the UK more affordable for all international students. Additionally, in October 2016, Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced several consultations on student visas, in the context of a series of strategies to reduce overall immigration numbers. She outlined a possible two-tier system, in which “tougher rules” would apply to students enrolling in “lower quality courses”.

There could also be more widespread changes to the current student visa system, affecting all international students. As hinted by the Prime Minister in her address to dignitaries and journalists at the Lancaster House, a ‘hard’ Brexit is highly anticipated at least in some facets of the potential deals. This may cut off the free movement of people completely. For starters, students from the EU may be subjected to work restrictions, and they may also have to apply for a Tier 4 Student Visas and the system of work permits might fly into action. Students from the European Union may no longer enjoy fee reductions, consequently pulling down the influx of EU students.

More than 100 universities and other organisations have so far joined the #WeAreInternational campaign, which aims to ensure Brexit does not result in fewer international students and academics coming to the UK. In addition, Britain’s access to the European Union’s flagship student mobility programme, Erasmus+, will be dramatically affected once Brexit happens, presumably in Spring 2019.

Erasmus+ has benefited 85,000 UK students on study and work placements, and staff too can take up exchange opportunities. The government says participation after Brexit ‘depends on negotiations’. Meanwhile, the UK already seems less attractive post-referendum. The elite Russell Group universities are concerned about falling applications from EU students. Cambridge reports a 17% drop in EU applications for 2017 and is planning for two thirds fall thereafter.

Many institutions fear a loss of access to talent in recruitment. There are reports of British universities struggling to attract European Economic Area (EU plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) applicants to teaching and research posts, and a University College Union survey says 42% of staff is considering leaving the UK, many fearing cuts in research funding. Almost half said they had colleagues who had already lost out on funding bids. Other EU member states may attract academics outside of the UK, especially concerning EU nationals which currently account to 13.6 percent of senior lecturers in Great Britain.

Brexit sends a negative message not just to 27 EU partners, but to the entire world. Lord Bilimoria, the founder of Cobra beer, has attacked the government’s failure to remove students from net migration figures. He urged the Vice Chancellors’ group Universities UK (UUK) to insist on free movement for students and working visas for non-EEA graduates, as happens in most of Europe, and in Canada, Australia and the USA. Worryingly, the Higher Education Policy Institute reports Home Office plans to place fresh restrictions on overseas students, which it claims could cost the UK £2bn a year.

However, we are not taking into consideration the positive effects of Brexit concerning other aspects such as Security, Law and Jurisdictions. After London and Manchester suffered what were the worst terrorist attacks on British soil since 2005, populist leaders across the Union are pointing at unrestricted immigration as a contributing factor to terrorism, favouring in fact high restriction on the movement of people that will as well influence international students.

About the author

Md. Minhajul Abedin is currently an International and Business Development Consultant at Westminster Business Consultants (WBC) based in London. He is a recipient of the Westminster International Scholarship and his experience includes some working at the United States Department of State, AFS-USA and iEARN-BD. 

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