BREXIT – WHAT HAPPENS NOW
In the muddle of confusion that spanned the UK during the lead up to the EU referendum, we saw a heartfelt plea in the form of an open letter from the heads of 103 UK universities. This letter expressed the concerns for the future of higher education if the overruling vote from the British public was to ‘leave’ the European Union. The letter also reminded us of the power that universities and educational institutions have amongst local communities and the wider economy. We were prompted to recall that the power of these institutions should not be underestimated, and that all could change outside of the EU. UK universities produce new, employable graduates every year, with students from the EU generating a large amount of money (£3.7bn) for the UK economy through their education and part time work. And as well as providing a workspace for talented, well educated staff members, these institutions reach cutting edge, ground breaking research that is beneficial on a global scale.
It is not unknown that the student demographic has previously had a poor show when it comes to involvement in public voting, such as in the general elections. There are many reasons for a lack of voters in the younger generation, but in the EU referendum a staggering 87% of eligible students in the UK voted. An analysis of this data shows that for every 1 student who voted to Leave the EU, 6 voted to Remain. This means that 85% of undergraduate students chose the Remain side, almost 1 million out of the 1.4million who were eligible to vote.
Coming back to today, we see the Brexit court defeat for the UK government. Meaning, parliament must now vote on whether the UK should start the process of leaving the EU or not. The Remain side of the House of Commons swayed the ruling, meaning Theresa May’s plans to start Brexit talks before the end of March 2017 will have to change. Article 50 – which allows for the negotiation of leaving the EU – will now only be triggered when parliament is ready. The Remain side will argue that this has to be the case, and this could mean waiting until they are completely happy with any future deals with the EU, which could take a very long time.
It has been argued that triggering Article 50 would be changing the people’s rights. The MPs voting for the ruling were voting for ‘the people’ and the noise they have made concerning the Leave result of the EU referendum. It’s a whole different ball game once the Article is triggered. The negotiation of the UK as a single market is completely dependent on the 27 other member states.
In summary, what does Brexit mean for further education?
Once the results came in, unsurprisingly, countless students reached out to universities to find out what this meant for their future education. The voice of universities (UUK) reassured students that throughout the Brexit transition period the focus will be on securing support that would allow UK universities to continue on a global scale, as well as keeping their names as an ‘attractive destination’ for students across Europe. UK universities are some of the best in the world, it is important that this train of thought is continued and that EU student applications keep continuing to rise.
If/when Brexit goes ahead, a slowdown has been predicted in the British economy. The pound sterling dropped to a 3 year low against the euro once Theresa May announced her plans for a sharper Brexit, with more emphasis on border control than the single market. A slower British economy has negative effects on job prospects, especially for graduates with little experience in comparison. The NUS have predicted that the Leave vote will lead into a tougher job market with fewer vacancies for graduates. We can see the tuition fees for English students constantly increasing, despite prior promises to keep fees low. Tuition fees could rise for EU students, dependent on the country. When it comes to student loans, for EU nationals there will be no change as of yet, but bursaries and scholarships could possibly change.
A massive issue we are facing within higher education is the funding for research. Russell group universities have received more than half a billion pounds a year in EU investment from 2014-2015, the future of this funding continuing is in doubt. We have already seen UK scientists dropped from EU projects due to funding fears. There has been a wave of discrimination against the UK researchers, with top institutions coming under pressure due to their financial liability. The UK get a rather large proportion of the EU budget for education funding, and this could be jeopardised, meaning less funding and less opportunities for postgraduates study in the European research network.
The Erasmus programme – which offers funding to students and staff at European higher education institutions, when exchanging to other EU countries – has stated that there will be no immediate change to the UK’s participation in the programme. For now it will continue to deliver across the country, which many students will be happy to know. If this was the case, some courses would no longer be viable without the funding of this programme, we could have seen a decrease in the study of modern and foreign languages.
Now we wait to hear what is to come when parliament vote on whether we will be starting to leave the EU or not…