No-deal Brexit could spell disaster for UK universities

Academics say it would take "decades to recover" from crashing out of EU
Academics say it would take "decades to recover" from crashing out of EU
by Hayley Pearce | 21 Jan 2019

As no-deal Brexit looks more likely, some fear the worst

UK universities could go bust after a no-deal Brexit after losing more than £1 billion in EU funding, higher education leaders say.

A no-deal Brexit, where the UK cuts ties with the European Union overnight without a transition period and no agreement in place, is looking “less and less unlikely”, according to the French prime minister.

And in an open letter to MPs, university heads and other experts have warned that crashing out of the EU with no agreement could lead to "an academic, cultural and scientific setback from which it would take decades to recover".

The letter was jointly sent by university groups including Universities UK, the Russell Group, Guild HE, Million Plus and University Alliance.

Universities UK say that a no-deal Brexit could lead to EU nationals entering the UK to be treated as third country nationals, and the UK's ability to participate in Horizon 2020, the EU’s framework programme for funding research and innovation, and Erasmus+ could cease.

Impact on academic research

Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group, wrote a piece for the i newspaper where he says universities will not only lose £1.2 billion in EU funding over the next few years in the event of a no-deal Brexit, but they will also lose connections to collaborative networks, research facilities, data sets and individuals.

The letter from the HE leaders says that a no-deal Brexit would undermine scientific research and threaten the £21 billion that universities contribute to the UK economy.

The government has said its immigration plans will keep universities "open to the talent we need from Europe".

But leaving with no deal, Tim says, would bar the country’s access to European Research Council grants, which support research that “underpins medical treatments, environmental protection, social policies and new engineering technologies that benefit everyone.”

Some 15 UK academics disagree with his sentiment in a letter they wrote to the Guardian, saying: “Now is the moment to tell the EU that the UK will be a close partner in academic research in the same way as 15 non-EU nation states are at present and that the UK will pay its way, as we did before. This is a win-win situation which does not require the UK to surrender sovereignty or accept destructive conditions.”

Fewer EU nationals

On top of this, he points out that there has been a “nine per cent year on year decline in EU nationals enrolling for postgraduate research studies at our universities.”

Undergraduate courses have taken a hit too, with the Russell Group recently revealing the number of EU nationals enrolling in their institutions has fallen for the first time in five years.

And a no-deal Brexit would lead to a 57 per cent drop off in incoming EU students, according to the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) think tank.

HEPI director Nick Hillman has warned that 2019 could be the year that a university goes bust for the first time.

In a TSR thread about the impact of Brexit on international and EU students, 999tigger said: “A collapse in the pound should make it much cheaper for international students. The only other students significantly affected will be those from the EU after any transitional arrangements two to five years down the line.

“It will be up to the UK to negotiate bilateral agreements, otherwise EU students will just be treated as other international students and access to student loans should be removed after the transitional arrangements two to five years down the line.”

And chemting thinks fewer EU students will mean higher tuition fees for UK students, saying: “If the number of international students (who pay much more than home students) drop, this along with a reduction in EU funding will probably mean higher tuition fees if the government doesn't pick up the tab, which I doubt they will. If that happens, I feel sorry for the 16-year-olds who will have to incur that but didn't get a say.”

What now?

There is a great deal of uncertainty around the UK’s separation from the EU. Theresa May failed to get her Brexit plan voted through in the House of Commons, but marginally won a vote of no confidence.

Some Labour politicians and supporters are calling on Jeremy Corbyn to back a second referendum, and Labour strategists are saying that support for a referendum is likely to increase as the risk of a no-deal Brexit is increased in the run-up to the article 50 deadline, March 29.

A TSR poll has so far found that, of the more than 1,800 people to respond so far, nearly 80 per cent would choose to remain in the EU rather than leave if given the chance to re-vote.

TSR member gr8wizard10 said: “Leave, because democracy has already spoken.”

But Elastichedgehog replied: “A lot of people were grossly misinformed on what they were actually voting for though.

“Admittedly that's their fault but given a look at the consequences of Brexit over the past two months I think a lot of leave voters would change their vote.

“I'm Remain and I've no problem with Leave voters, I just think the ‘democracy has spoken’ thing isn't a great argument given how the whole Leave-Remain campaigns were. Leave used the refugee crisis to their advantage and stirred immigration fear and Remain's campaign was admittedly terrible.”

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