Saturday

18th Jan 2020

Opinion

UK universities must brace for a 'no-deal' Brexit

  • Not just the Erasmus+ exchange scheme, but billions of euros in loans from the European Investment Bank could be up in the air (Photo: Wikipedia)

A no-deal Brexit will have catastrophic consequences for universities across the UK.

There would be too much to lose if we didn't negotiate a deal with the EU.

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Take Erasmus+ for example, which facilitates European opportunities for UK students, staff and institutions, and is a brilliant example of how engaging in established international programmes can boost short-term mobility, employment opportunities, and help disadvantaged students get more out of their degrees.

Some 55 percent of all UK students who go abroad do so through the scheme and that number grows year-on-year, so why should we throw it away?

A deal must be struck with the EU.

If a transitional period is negotiated, a successor programme would be legislated in 2020, but in the event of a no-deal Brexit, there wouldn't be an initiative of such magnitude for many years to come.

When Switzerland organised their Erasmus+ replacement scheme in 2014, some EU institutions refused to re-sign the partnership because they were no longer on a recognised programme.

Generations of students could lose out if the UK goes down the same path.

Of course, it's not only Erasmus plus that is at risk from a no-deal Brexit. It is essential the government continue arrangements between the UK and the European Investment Bank (EIB) to safeguard future funding.

Billions of euros have been invested in modernising campuses, but future loans will be up in the air.

Interest rates on these loans could sky-rocket and UK universities would be left with few sustainable development projects that improve both student satisfaction and course-specific facilities, which in turn promote valuable research exports.

Without long-term access to EIB funds, universities could be forced to seek funding from elsewhere – including pressuring the government to lift the tuition fee cap – which only negatively impacts students, especially working-class and poorer young people.

Academics have as much to fear as students if the likes of hard Brexiteer MPs Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg get their way.

Building an immigration system in which talented academia can freely travel without unnecessary obstacles is, without a doubt, impossible without negotiating with the EU.

It is assumed there will be problems in Northern Ireland and in places like Dover over imports, so you can imagine the challenges EU nationals could face flying into the country.

Building post-Brexit policy

The UK must develop a post-Brexit immigration policy that helps individuals teach and study in the UK – and they can start by removing international student numbers from overall immigration figures.

Brexiteers will insist on having non-European partners invited equally to Europeans (as if they're not already), as they attempt to establish further ties with the US and others, but this rhetoric dismisses the fact we invest in research and innovation through overseas aid, which is something they'd be keen to axe.

There's very little research to suggest a no-deal Brexit will be good for universities.

Indeed, a lot of fear-mongering has come from Brexiteers: the Daily Mail has attacked "Remainer universities" and a Tory MP suggested lecturers have an inherent anti-Brexit bias in their teaching.

A report from the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) determined top UK universities could bring in additional income from charging EU students the same as international students, but this could deter EU students from studying in the UK - and less successful universities would not be able to offset the loss in EU funding with additional tuition fees.

Resistance against all this is strong from students.

The National Union of Students is campaigning for a 'People's Vote' because an overwhelming number of students and students' unions have asked them to.

Students don't want Brexit, let alone a no-deal scenario, and we shouldn't be forced to endure the disastrous consequences of a failing government.

If there was another vote tomorrow, there would be a huge increase in the number of young people voting remain, and that instills hope of a better future.

Reece Stafferton is a postgraduate British student at De Montfort University in the UK

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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