What Does Brexit Mean For U.K Universities, Students and Academics?

On 23 June 2016, a hotly contested debate around the UK’s continued membership of the European Union ended in a public vote narrowly in support of the “leave” campaign.

The complete implications of the referendum – including exactly when the UK will commence its exit (Brexit) along with the terms which it’s going to achieve this are yet uncertain, and likely to be like that for quite a while.

With Prime Minister David Cameron committed to stepping down by October, the upcoming months will see the country achieve a new prime minister, and perhaps hold an election, in turn shaping the negotiating point from where great Britain commences exit talks.

Once Article 50 is formally invoked, there will be only two-year negotiating window left, also it’s unlikely there’ll be any significant changes until this is closed. Once the process is complete, what could Brexit mean for young students, universities and academics from the EU, UK and elsewhere?

Fees and Financial Aid

Probably the most pressing questions for current EU students in the UK, and people planning to enroll in the future, is whether tuition fees can change. Many U.K universities previously issued public statements pledging to keep current fee levels for existing EU students until the end of their studies, as well as to those planning to commence studies in the 2016/17 academic year.

Students Loans Company (SLC) has confirmed that EU nationals who are already studying in England, or going to commence studies, will continue to be qualified to receive the loans and grants that currently have, throughout the duration of their course.

In the long term, it is possible that EU students will have to pay a higher fee rates that apply to those from outside the EU. However, those looking around the brighter side have noticed that the pound will fall in value, if sustained, may make studying in England cheaper for many international students.

Visas and Work

With immigration controls so central to the Brexit debate, chances are that new regulations are going to be introduced in the near future (though that’s uncertain before two-year negotiating period ends).

If the UK withdraws from existing agreements on freedom of movement, future EU students might need to get a Tier 4 student visa or even a short-term study visa, in order to study in the UK.

However, it is also possible that the government will revise visa conditions in light of the changing situation, introducing new processes or requirements for EU students and for all international students.

In addition, It’s likely great Britain government will eventually set a new target for overall immigration numbers, and introduce a points-based visa system for incoming EU nationals.

It’s not clear whether international students will be included in this overall number, however, the new points-based system would also apply to those planning to work in the United Kingdom after completing a college degree.

Currently, the most common visas for working in Britain, including Tier 2 (General), require applicants to have a job offer in place before you apply for the visa. If this remains to be the case, life turns into significantly harder for EU nationals.

However, it is possible that the United Kingdom will reach some sort of compromise about the freedom of movement issue, perhaps by introducing a grace period where graduates and also other EU citizens can search for work within the U.K.

Outbound Movement Through the UK

When I spoke to students last month before writing this article, many UK students said they were concerned about Brexit would limit their opportunities to study, travel and work elsewhere in the EU. During the 2013/14 academic year, over 15,566 U.K students participated in Erasmus study and work placements, and this number is growing significantly in recent years (by 115% from 2007).

U.K students studying full degree programs on the continent currently pay significantly lower tuition fees than most of them would at home in most cases – also enjoying all the benefits that come from international experience.

It’s possible that from now on, UK students will face higher fees in many (though not all) in European Union, while they transfer to the non-EU category. They also have to apply for student visas, and in many cases might have reduced rights to be eligible to work during and after their studies. British students will probably no longer be eligible for Erasmus funding, thus the UK universities will make an effort to maintain strong exchange partnerships within and beyond Europe.

Research Funding & PhD

How about those pursuing research-based programs and careers in England? Following the referendum result, British researchers have voiced concerns regarding the potential reduction in EU funding, which currently comes down to almost 1 billion annually.

There are also concerns about the potential lowering of incoming talent; 16% of researchers at British universities currently result from other EU states. Research partnerships between institutions can also decrease, and if you pay attention to the most pessimistic predictions – industry investment could fall, while borrowing can become harder (and costly) for universities and the government.

From the positive side, the strong reputation, facilities and relationships of U.K universities will definitely not disappear overnight, and the U.K college sector is strongly united in the determination to take care of current degrees of opportunity for a lot of students and faculty members.

Without a doubt the United Kingdom’s universities and student (both domestic and international) will become important voices in the discussions ahead.



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