The Commons Select Committee for Education was warned of the potential financial, academic, and global damage Brexit could do to UK universities last week.
In a session held at UCL on Wednesday, the panel of MPs heard evidence from representatives of University and College Union, Erasmus, the British Council, NUS, Universities UK and London Economics.
Despite welcoming the slight clarity provided by Theresa May in her Brexit Speech, the witnesses insisted more was needed to alleviate the concerns felt across the HE sector. The rhetoric of a welcoming society for international students and academics must extend into policy.
Their primary concern was for falling numbers of international students and academics, which they saw would negatively impact universities.
The impact of Brexit is already being felt by universities. UCL President and Provost, Michael Arthur, cited figures that show applications to UK universities from EU students have dropped by more than 7%.
EU students bring in a huge amount of money to the UK Economy cited by Sorana Vieru, Vice-President for Higher Education at the NUS, as £1.13bn in fees and a further £2.5bn in off campus spending.
Dr. Jo Beall, Director of Education and Society at the British Council, stressed that “higher education is the fifth largest service economy and export” for the UK and urged for it to be recognised by the government as “critical to our industrial strategy and our trade negotiations”.
Academically the UK has a lot at stake from the Brexit vote. Despite the country having 0.9% of the global population but it produces 15.9% of world’s most highly cited articles.
Dr Beall said: “Huge benefits from students working in diverse classrooms and contexts. They become more employable globally and more competitive in the global marketplace.”
The current lack of certainty in Britain makes cross institution research between UK universities and those in countries remaining in the EU much more difficult. The witnesses described academics pulling out of research bids due to uncertainty regarding the future.
Those on the panel expressed the need for EU funding, such as Horizon 2020, to be underwritten post brexit as well as immediate job security provided for academics. Otherwise the UK’s strong tradition of academia will suffer.
Dr. Beal provided the astounding fact that: “One in four countries globally have leaders educated in the UK.” Those giving evidence warned of the threat Brexit posed to the ‘soft power’ that the UK’s world renowned universities provides.
A study by the British Council found that the Brexit vote caused a 30% reduction in EU people who thought the UK was “open, tolerant and welcoming” and a subsequent reduction in those who want to study here.
Despite immigration being a key factor in the outcome of the Brexit vote a study conducted by the British Council found only one fifth of people saw students as migrants. Unanimously they agreed that unless international students and academics are excluded from immigration quotas, UK universities will suffer.
The industry leader’s agreed that any notion of Britain remaining an open and welcoming society needs to be upheld by policy action from the Government. Already the impact of Brexit is being felt in the Higher Education sector and immediate action is required to prevent a decline in what Dr Gavan Conlon from London Economics described as one of the only UK sectors “truly competitive on a global scale”.