Blog: universities and Brexit

22 February 2017

Russell Group Head of Policy Jessica Cole looks at some of the issues that should be front and centre during Brexit talks: 

Russell Group universities are international institutions. Openness to new ideas and talent from across the world has been fundamental to their success and our ties to Europe have been a big part of that.

Whether we are talking about being able to attract the best research staff, teachers and students, collaboration on major scientific projects or use of large-scale infrastructure, it is clear that the EU has been very important to UK higher education.

Brexit will mean big changes. With the Brexit Bill starting in the House of Lords this week, it is timely to look closely at the qualities we most value in our relationship with Europe and which we need to protect to support UK higher education as we leave the EU.

Top of the list is access to high quality international staff and students. They are indispensable for world-class universities, contributing to a diverse staff and student body on campus and a thriving society, culture and economy.

There are 58,000 students of other EU nationalities at Russell Group universities, making up 8% of undergraduate students and 15% of postgraduate students. In addition, there are around 22,800 members of staff from other EU countries at our universities, making up 14% of the overall workforce, 21% of academics and 25% of staff on research-only contracts.

There has been a great deal of uncertainty caused by the referendum result and as a priority we are calling on the government to immediately confirm  the continued working rights for current EU staff(and their dependents) at UK universities and for those who take up positions during the transition period before the UK has left the EU. We want staff and their dependents to retain the same rights to stay and work without a visa that they have now (with no time limit placed on this).

Looking to the future, the Prime Minister has said she wants the UK to remain open to the best and brightest after Brexit. This is absolutely the right thing to do.

Ministers have a real chance to make sure we have a visa and immigration system which allows UK universities to attract, recruit and retain the talented staff and students they need from Europe and across the globe.   

We are also asking the Government to provide clarity as soon as possible on fee rates and access to financial support for EU students who would be starting courses in the transition period before Brexit. Both students and universities need to know what the terms and conditions will be to be able to plan and make decisions as early as possible.

For the UK’s research-intensive universities, the EU means more than access to quality people. The EU’s research programme has supported hundreds of thousands of collaborative links between the UK and other European countries and has allowed our universities to lead large-scale multi-national projects helping to deliver huge advances in science and technology.

Ministers have already signalled that they are willing to invest in research and the additional money announced at the Autumn Statement for science was most welcome. Ensuring that arrangements can be made for the UK’s continued participation in excellence-based EU research programmes is the next step to making sure our universities can continue to be globally competitive.

For UK higher education these issues need to be front and centre as Brexit talks get underway in earnest.

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