Britain on Track for Brexit – Higher Education Reacts

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland made a decision on 23 June that will affect not only the future of the nation, but the future of the EU as a whole. The full fallout of Brexit remains far from clear, and it’s as impossible to predict the full implications as it was to predict the referendum results. In this time of instability, we look at how the higher education sector is reacting.

Universities and higher education institutions have been stalwart supporters of remaining in the EU since the beginning of the campaign; we have already discussed in detail exactly what benefits that membership provided, so what effect do experts in the sector think Brexit will have?

Universities UK

Universities UK (UUK), having campaigned for Britain to remain a member of the EU, has announced its disappointment in the result. Julia Goodfellow, the president of the organisation, urged people to remember that the process of leaving the European Union will take time, and that negotiations are possible to try and assure the best outcome for all.

“There will be a gradual exit process with significant opportunities to seek assurances and influence future policy.”

She emphasised that during this period of instability, UUK will continue to support Britain’s universities, and their relationships with institutions overseas:

“Our first priority will be to convince the UK government to takes steps to ensure that staff and students from EU countries can continue to work and study at British universities and to promote the UK as a welcoming destination for the brightest and best minds. We will also prioritise securing opportunities for our researchers and students to access vital pan-European programmes and build new global networks.”

National Union of Students 

The National Union of Students naturally stated its disappointment at the “Brexit” result, not least because the majority of young people voted to remain part of the EU.

NUS International also released a statement, promising to work on behalf of international students in the UK, to ensure they get the best possible deal.

English UK

Enrolments in English language courses in the UK have been dropping recently, and this latest development may well push those numbers down further.

Steve Phillips, chair of English UK, which represents the country’s English language education sector, said in a statement:

“We believe our sector has a great deal to offer, and we are keen to work with the government on this. We will be seeking urgent meetings with incoming ministers as the situation becomes clearer.”

His major focus will be on ensuring international students are not counted as migrants.

The European University Association

At a time when rhetoric on the continent is not entirely favourable towards the UK, a statement from the European University Association, which represents 850 universities across Europe, made a positive statement:

“Regardless of the result, British universities are – and remain – an essential part of the European family of universities, which extends beyond EU borders. This community of knowledge and learning is strong and longstanding, and it will surely overcome this crisis, although the questions and consequences of the British exit are certainly formidable. EUA will continue to work with and for British universities. The Europe of universities will not be divided!”

The emerging picture is one of combined disappointment, anxiety and cautious optimism. Brexit has the potential to deal a hard blow to the higher education system in Britain, and its long-term effects on student numbers and international collaborations are difficult to forecast. While the details are worked out, the higher education sector needs to come together to ensure continued international collaboration, and security for students and staff alike.


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