What should universities do now a no-deal Brexit seems likely?

“Few academics believe a no-deal Brexit will be good for the education system”

Regardless of how you feel about Britain leaving the European Union, there was a time when not securing a deal seemed farcical. Yet, with the new deadline of October 31st now imminent, this unfortunately now looks almost certain.

This would have dramatic implications for the UK, but one of the greatest could be in the education sector. From universities to student accommodation, there are measures which should be considered – and planned for – in the event of a no-deal.

The importance of international students

Our educational system is arguably the envy of the world. Last year, more than 400,000 students came to study in the UK – almost 20% of all students. Furthermore, 30% of all academic staff (in 2017) are from international countries. In certain subjects, such as engineering, this figure can increase to around 43%.

This carries a variety of benefits, such as a free exchange of ideas and having access to some of the greatest minds and institutions around the world. It also greatly benefits the economy – with international students adding around £20bn to the system each year.

A no-deal Brexit could potentially bring an end to all of this.
How does a no-deal Brexit affect this?
Being a member of the EU means students – both in the UK and Europe – have enjoyed ‘freedom of movement’. This allows citizens to easily study abroad as ‘home students’. As a result, they also generally enjoyed cheaper tuition fees.

Assuming a no-deal Brexit happens, freedom of movement could come to an end. Citizens entering the UK for an extended period (to study) will likely have to apply for a European Temporary Leave to Remain. Yet, these individuals might also have to apply for a visa should their courses continue beyond three years.

European staff, meanwhile, may need to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme to continue living in the UK. Those who do not, or have their application denied, could find themselves being asked to leave the country post Brexit.

With the prospect of a no-deal rapidly approaching, there remain a variety of questions surrounding the long-term rights of European students both already here and those considering studying in a British university.

Although freedom of movement is perhaps the biggest issue as a result of a no-deal Brexit, there are a range of other impacts. For example:

  • It’s debatable whether qualifications will carry the same international weight.
  • Schemes such as Erasmus+ will likely no longer apply.
  • Tuition fees for students from the EU will likely increase.
  • Universities in the UK could have fewer international research partnerships.

What the academic community needs to do

No-one knows precisely the impact of a no-deal Brexit – or even if we will leave the EU come October 31st – but universities must prepare for the worst-case scenario to ensure disruption to students is minimised.

Ironically, the best outcome will be to secure deals with existing EU partners. For example, when working on collaborative research projects, all stakeholders should be briefed as to the potential impact of a no-deal Brexit and implement measures to minimise disruption.

“Ironically, the best outcome will be to secure deals with existing EU partners”

EU students and staff should also be briefed regarding plans for immigration and, in the case of the former, how to guarantee job security. Regarding qualifications, care should be applied to the course itself to identify whether the degree will have weight outside of the UK.

As well as these, universities should determine how their processes could be affected. Potentially, this could include issues such as supply chains for food cafeterias, data storage, and intellectual property rights on research.

Student housing, meanwhile, is another area worth considering. After all, if freedom of movement ends, there might be fewer European students looking for lodgings. In turn, this could empty rooms – preventing landlords and providers from gathering as much rent.

“A no-deal Brexit is not inevitable”

With the Brexit deadline fast approaching, preparation and contingency plans are the only measures which can be implemented. Hopefully, these will help to reduce the impact when the time comes.

Could all this be averted?

A no-deal Brexit is not inevitable. A deal with the EU might still be reached, the deadline could be extended, or Article 50 could be revoked. In either of those cases, this article will be rendered void.

If not though, few academics believe a no-deal Brexit will be good for the education system. Potentially, it could take decades to fully determine the impact.

About the author: This article was written by Tom Chapman, working with Fortis Student Living. Fortis Student Living is a student accommodation provider with several sites across the country.