Exiting the EU: challenges and opportunities for higher education Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

The withdrawal process and the future relationship with the EU: possibility of ‘no deal’

1.The Department for Education, in co-operation with the Home Office and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, should publish a contingency plan for higher education to prepare for a ‘no deal’ situation. This plan should set out clear proposals to ensure potential risks are mitigated. (Paragraph 8)


2.The Government should guarantee home rate fees and access to tuition fee loans for EU undergraduate students starting in England in the academic year 2018/19 well in advance of the early deadline for course applications. The status of postgraduate students should also be clarified. This will create some immediate stability during the negotiations. (Paragraph 19)

3.It is important that the higher education sector is given enough notice of any changes to the migration status of EU students, their fee rate and access to loans. The Government needs to ensure sufficient time for universities and others in the higher education sector to adjust and plan ahead. It must also ensure that changes to fees or loans do not occur midway through a student’s course. (Paragraph 20)

4.We believe the best model for EU students is to retain a reciprocal open approach with light touch controls, such as visa-free access, which would enable preservation of a system closely resembling freedom of movement. We recommend the Government takes this open approach with all international students if it is serious in its desire for the UK to remain a global leader in higher education. (Paragraph 21)

5.International students should be removed from the net migration target. The Government’s refusal to do so is putting at risk the higher education sector’s share of the international student market. Removing international students from the target would be a simple way to offset some of the risks from leaving the European Union. For domestic policy purposes, these students could be recorded under a separate classification and not be counted against the overall limit. The Office for Students should monitor and report on the overall trends of international student recruitment. The Government should continue to improve its data recording, prioritising exit check data. (Paragraph 28)

6.The rights of EU higher education staff to work and reside in the UK need to be guaranteed as soon as possible. The Government has rightly identified the agreement of the rights of EU nationals as its first priority in the negotiations. However, we caution that a delay in confirming these rights will only intensify the current uncertainty for universities, and likely lead to a significant ‘brain drain’ in talented staff. The Government must be prepared to unilaterally agree the rights of EU nationals before the end of 2017 if a reciprocal deal is not agreed before then. (Paragraph 36)

7.Reforms to the immigration system need to reflect the requirements of higher education. The new immigration system after the UK leaves the European Union will need to facilitate, rather than inhibit, the movement of people in and out of our universities. Otherwise, continued academic collaboration and the sector’s international competitiveness will be at risk. (Paragraph 40)

8.We recommend a new visa for all highly-skilled academics, more liberal than the Tier 2 route. This should have a lower salary threshold and a separate, higher cap, as well as lower bureaucratic burdens and costs. This new approach would show the Government was serious in its aim to bring in the best from around the world and encourage collaboration. (Paragraph 41)

EU programmes

9.The Government should prioritise continued access to Horizon 2020 and other EU research funding after the UK’s exit, and negotiate access to future EU funding programmes. The Government should also make a contingency plan for investing the same level of funding it received from the EU domestically in a scenario where access cannot be negotiated. (Paragraph 52)

10.Continued membership of Erasmus+ would be the best outcome for the UK and the Government should consider this as a priority programme in its negotiations with the EU. If this proves impossible, it is vital that the mobility of students and staff is not impeded. The Government should guarantee it will underwrite any Erasmus+ placements potentially under threat in 2019. A replacement mobility programme will need to be drawn up at an early stage so it is ready to begin for the 2019/20 academic year. This replacement could focus on a wider net of countries around the world as long as it safeguards support for disadvantaged groups. (Paragraph 60)

11.Whatever the result of the negotiations, the Government should develop an ambitious outward mobility strategy with universities, which increases the range of mobility opportunities to more countries and includes a baseline participation target. (Paragraph 61)

12.We recommend that as a replacement to investment from European Structural and Investment Funds the Government establishes a new regional growth fund which allocates funding on a similar needs-based system. Given the UK is currently a net contributor, this new fund could easily exceed the level of investment the UK has traditionally received from the EU. This would help to meet the Government’s aim to rebalance the economy. (Paragraph 64)


13.There is tension between the current Government policies to both respect the current convention for Ministers not to decide what to spend research funds on, whilst also committing to ensuring R&D benefits the whole country. The Government needs to clarify its position. The uncertainty over the future availability of EU research funds and the creation of the UKRI means this is a golden opportunity to re-evaluate allocation of domestic funding so that the value of ‘place’ is articulated unambiguously. Otherwise, the Government will fail in its commendable aim to ensure R&D benefits the whole country. (Paragraph 71)

14.Universities should be represented in upcoming trade agreements with countries around the world to support their global ambitions. The Department for International Trade, in partnership with the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Energy and the Industrial Strategy, should develop a cross-Government strategy for international research and higher education. (Paragraph 77)

15.We recommend the Government pursues bold new collaborations with major research countries such as the USA, prioritising nations where relationships are already well-developed, as well as investing additional resources into existing efforts such as the Global Challenges Fund and the Newton Fund. It is crucial any new investment does not come at the expense of existing research funding, which even with the recent increase still lags behind the OECD average. (Paragraph 78)

21 April 2017