Exiting the EU: challenges and opportunities for higher education Contents
Annex 1: Engagement event at London South Bank University
On 7 December 2016 we held an informal engagement event with university staff and students at London South Bank University. The event was advertised through our website, social media and targeted at higher education groups. Our hosts London South Bank University also publicised the event internally. Attendees discussed three broad questions within the scope of our inquiry with Committee Members and staff.
The following is a summary of comments made during the event, split into the 3 broad questions. The attendees were divided into 5 groups. These comments amalgamate the general views from the event, except for when one group had a different view to others.
Q1 What do you think are the biggest issues and priorities for higher education following the decision to exit the European Union?
- General reputational risk to UK universities due to a range of issues. Additional risk that we could end up with two tiers of universities.
- Threat to diversity of student body. UK student experience may be diminished if we are not part of the EU. The value of an international education, surrounded by foreign staff and students, should not be underestimated.
- The need for a plan from Government. One table said that there was ignorance about the impact of exiting the European Union on higher education. Universities should be involved in the planning and decision-making.
- Importance of looking after current EU staff and students. EU citizens are feeling uncertain and negative towards the UK. Staff from the EU have great economic value to local communities.
- Removal of Erasmus+ could lead to fewer opportunities for underprivileged students and staff to get global perspective (social mobility).
- Possible difficulties in attracting staff. May lead to declining standards in teaching or negatively affect ability to hire the best staff. May negatively harm global reputation. Collaboration under threat as this is easier in EU.
- Less attractive to foreign students. Other countries are opening borders for international students at the same time that we are shutting them down—Canada, Australia, and Scandinavia. Worries about commercial impact of restricting ability to earn income from foreign students. Furthermore, post-study options are very limited. Students need to be sponsored by an employee within 4 months.
- Worried about how EU students will be managed from an immigration perspective, adding EU students will be difficult to manage. There is a great deal of time and energy being taken out of universities already because of immigration issues; this may intensify. Visa applications and the bureaucracy is likely to increase and create further challenges for universities. If EU students become international students, poorer may not be able to afford to study in the UK. Also, other European countries fees are much cheaper e.g. Germany.
- Research funding is under threat. EU research funding has helped build the global reputation of universities in the UK. There is now a danger that EU partnerships and projects will no longer occur in the future.
Q2 What should the Government be doing in the short term, during the negotiations and beyond, to protect the higher education sector?
- Protect the working rights of EU nationals and their dependents in immediate term. Limit uncertainty. Clarify their status immediately and for the status for students beyond 2017/18. This is essential. Researchers need to plan sometimes 5 years in advance. There is an additional worry that UK student numbers are falling, and a likely fall in EU numbers and international numbers creates a worrying picture.
- Give advance warning of upcoming changes. International offices in universities, for example, will need significantly more staffing if EU students become international. Needs to be a better understanding and recognition that higher education planning timescales are from 3 to 5 years in the future.
- More positive messaging from Government. Needs to be greater recognition of how large and important the HE sector is and make it a priority. Additionally, the Government needs to engage further with the sector, across all institutions and not just with the most prestigious. There is a danger that some universities have the ear of Government whilst others do not.
- Government needs to provide clarity over how it will ensure the UK higher education sector remains competitive—continued uncertainty is damaging.
- The Teaching Excellence Framework is creating more uncertainty. Rating of universities will impact on fees and international student numbers.
- Remove international students from the net migration figures. HE should be seen as an export. Clampdown on bogus students has already worked as only 1% overstaying their visas. One table said it was unbelievable that this debate was still ongoing.
- Clarify future of Erasmus+. Find a way to stay in Erasmus+ or replace with a domestic equivalent. Important for soft power.
- EU research funding, if not accessible after Brexit, needs to be matched domestically. The spread of funding would also need to be revised given that EU funds typically are granted to a more diverse range of universities.
Q3 What opportunities could Brexit provide for universities, and how can universities ensure they remain competitive globally after Brexit?
- One table said there were very few opportunities that would arise from Britain leaving the EU. They also added that universities already have international partnerships and there are some reports of people being put off from British universities. Another table said that it was difficult to know until the situation was clearer and the sector knew what Brexit would look like. They concluded that there is a danger that universities have a history of making opportunities in difficult circumstances
- Focus on recruiting best students and staff globally by broadening immigration policy—greater number of foreign students. Opportunity to fix immigration and make it clear what can and cannot be controlled.
- Potential opportunity for extra fee income if EU students move to the international rate. Also, weaker pound means cheaper fees for international students in the short term.
- Many EU students go to college in UK before applying to university. This would require two visas and to leave the country if they were international students. Barrier should be removed.
- Greater link between education and trade. One opportunity could be looking to other countries away from the EU, such as different markets and partnerships with other institutions. Trade delegations should include higher education representatives to help develop more international agreements. Opportunity for our universities to set up campuses in Europe.