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UK academics disagree over the effects of a no-deal Brexit on crucial research and postgraduate enrolment

As the outcome of Brexit negotiations is still covered in mist, academics have dissenting opinions on the future of British universities following a possible no-deal Brexit. Meanwhile, British Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, announced the launch of a new international education strategy in 2019 and stressed the importance of international students for UK universities. Recent figures on international students’ enrolment in British universities show a drop in the number of EU students enrolled this year, in particular at post-graduate level, and a significant rise in non-EU students, especially from China. 

On 4 January, in an open letter to MPs, university leaders from the major university organisations in the UK, i.e. Universities UK, the Russell Group, Guild HE, MillionPlus and University Alliance, expressed their concern over a deadlock in the Brexit negotiations representing “the biggest threat” to crucial academic research. According to them, a no-deal Brexit would seriously affect EU research collaborations and mutual academic exchanges thus undermining key findings in the field of medical and scientific research, such as cancer treatment or climate change mitigation. They call on the UK government to provide valid funding alternatives to the current EU research funding schemes, such as the European Research Council (ERC) and Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions programme (MSCA), to which the UK will no longer be entitled (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, November 2018).

In response, a few days later, 15 academics wrote a letter to The Guardian in which, instead, they describe the post-‘no deal’ Brexit academic scenario as a “win-win situation” by comparing it to the third-countries position where they can benefit from EU programmes such as Horizon2020 without suffering from the European Commission’s clout.

Meanwhile, on 30 January, the EU Commission adopted a series of ‘no-deal’ measures in the area of Erasmus+, social security and EU budget. These measures will ensure that in a ‘no-deal’ scenario Erasmus+ participants, both students from the EU27 studying or interning in the UK and UK students studying in the EU27, can complete the programme and receive the full scholarship. These measures are also designed to partly alleviate the negative consequences of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit in those areas that receive EU funding, such as research, innovation and agriculture. In conclusion, the next few months will be crucial for a negotiated exit but whether March 29, or a delayed deadline, will mark a stark change in people’s everyday lives is still too early to predict.

UK Department for Education

European Commission - Press Release