With less than seven weeks to go until the Brexit deadline, the UK has yet to reach a deal with the EU. With Boris Johnson proroguing parliament, leaving the EU without a deal seems inevitable. If a no deal were to happen how exactly would it impact UK universities?
In an open letter to MPs 150 universities leaders have called a no-deal “one of the biggest threats” ever facing the higher education industry which could result in “an academic, cultural and scientific setback from which it would take decades to recover”. Universities in the UK strongly believe that a no-deal could contribute to the failure of at least 10 universities due to international student numbers, research, and funding.
Currently EU nationals are eligible for the same university fees as UK nationals are in the UK. They contribute over £20 billion to the UK economy each year. The 2018 QS International Student Survey revealed that 39% of EU nationals who participated are less likely to study abroad in the UK due to Brexit. Study International have calculated that the 39% of students (21,854 students) represent a potential loss of over £202 million in tuition fees (assuming EU students are still eligible for the ‘home’ tuition fee). The loss of this income would impact universities greatly.
Under a no-deal the EU Settlement Scheme will not apply to individuals including students arriving in the UK after the exit day. EU & EEA individuals will be able to stay in the UK for a maximum of 3 months, after then they will have to apply for a European Temporary Leave to Remain which enables them to study, work, and live in the UK for up to 3 years. After this they will have to apply through a new immigration system for a visa. This can pose issues for EU students wanting to study a PhD or an undergraduate degree in Scotland (4 year course), as they do not know if they will be granted a visa after the Temporary Leave to Remain and they do not know the future visa conditions as they have yet to be decided.
If the UK leaves without a deal the EHIC card will not be valid. The government is currently "seeking agreements with countries on health care arrangements for UK nationals" but this has not been completed. The result is that UK students studying abroad in Europe and Europeans studying in the UK will have to buy travel insurance for the entire duration of their studies unless an EHIC deal is reached.
The future of international students after graduation is slightly clearer. The government have recently reversed Theresa May’s immigration policy regarding graduates. Currently, graduates can only work in the UK for up to four months after graduating. The new move will allow graduates to work in the UK for up to two years after graduation. The visa will be available to international students at the end of their undergraduate or higher degree in any course so long as they have a tier 4 visa at the point that the route is introduced.
Education Secretary Gavin Williams commented on the visa announcement saying “The important contribution international students make to our country and universities is both cultural and economic. Their presence benefits Britain, which is why we’ve increased the period of time these students can remain in the UK after their studies”.
The ERASMUS Scheme
The ERASMUS Scheme offers European students the opportunity to study abroad in Europe and receive financial support during their year abroad. Currently 53% of UK students who spend a year study abroad take part in the ERASMUS scheme, with over 31,000 EU nationals studying in the UK in 2016/17.
A no-deal would throw this scheme into jeopardy. The current scheme is in place until 2020 but it’s unclear what will happen after then. The government has encouraged universities to start making their own partnerships and links with European universities to help preserve study abroad schemes, suggesting that each university has to negotiate their own deal. This could lead to new partnerships being formed with universities around the world.
Each year the EU awards UK Universities and researchers millions of pounds towards research into a variety of different areas. The Guardian revealed that the UK is the most successful EU country in receiving grants from the European Research Council. From 2007 to 2017 the UK won over 1,850 grants, their nearest competitor was Germany who only won 1,330 grants. They calculated that the UK will lose around £1.2 billion of research funding over the next two years. The UK also risks losing scientific minds. Nobel prize winner Duncan Haldane has said that if access to research grants from the European research Council are cut off he will not be returning to the UK from America.
Professor of Physics at the University of Cambridge, Sir Martin Rees, has stated that the UK scientific scene is much stronger now due to the “strengthening of science on mainland Europe….but there is a serious risk that there will be a renewed surge of defections, weakening UK science”.
Without a deal the UK will not be eligible for the research funding that universities and their faculty rely on. The result could be a decline in research produced by the UK, with scientists, professors and brilliant minds leaving the UK to other EU countries to continue their research, heavily impacting the Russell Group Universities.
European members of staff will have to get permission to work in the UK and secure the appropriate visas. This poses a greater problem to universities with a high proportion of EU member staff, a quarter of the staff at the University of Kent are from non-British EU countries. The need for a visa could deter talented individuals from working in the UK.
Equipment and Resources Several universities have revealed that they're beginning to stockpile food in case of shortages following a no-deal. Universities with teaching hospitals are concerned about the access to pharmaceutical products and medical supplies and are making plans with their suppliers to ensure they do not go without.