Higher education and the dangers of a hard Brexit

Student_admissions.jpgThe Education Select Committee is looking at “the impact of exiting the European Union on higher education”, writes Gill Green of Migration Matters Trust. Individuals giving evidence to the Committee on 11 January 2017 highlighted the critical contribution of non-British staff, students and research partners to the success of British higher education. 

International students are the UK's third largest “export” - but polls show that Brexit has had a worldwide negative impact on students' likelihood to apply for UK study. EU applications are already down; student numbers may fall if their fees go up and their current free movement is replaced by cumbersome and expensive visas.

EU citizens make up 20% of the staff of the Russell Group - and a higher percentage of researchers and staff in the economically key areas of maths, science and engineering. These staff need reassurance about their positions - and the status of their families.

The UK is a world leader in many research areas; but almost half that research involves outside partners. At the moment five of our top ten partners are EU countries. One in four British research publications is joint with a European partner. So, if universities are to continue as world leaders, they need a replacement for EU research funding and a way to maintain research collaboration with European centres.

Catherine Barnard, professor of EU law at Cambridge University, warned that a “hard Brexit” would “cut off the flow of excellent people who are coming at the moment”. She quoted a 14 per cent drop in applications from the EU for undergraduate courses at Cambridge in 2017. Postgraduate applications had gone up, but there were already signs of future concern. Those who declined the offer of a postgraduate place mentioned perceived anti-immigrant sentiment post-Brexit; the falling value of bursaries with the falling pound; and the uncertainty of future cross- European research collaboration.

The full evidence sessions can be heard via the Parliament select committee website.