A hard Brexit would be “biggest disaster” for universities

Anti-immigrant sentiment is putting students off from coming to the UK and 76% of non-UK EU academics in the UK are considering leaving. This is sad and shameful in equal measure.

University heads told MPs yesterday that a hard Brexit risked damaging the university sector. Alistair Fitt, vice-chancellor at Oxford Brookes University, said that “it would probably be the biggest disaster for the university sector in many years.”

MPs in the House of Commons Education committee were hearing evidence on the impact of Brexit on universities. In Sky News’ report of the meeting, university figures warn of the consequences of a hard Brexit, which would see the end of free movement with the EU. Its report quotes John Lathan, vice-chancellor at Coventry University saying that Brexit would make universities in the UK “extremely uncompetitive”. Cambridge University professor Catherine Barnard told the committee that it risked cutting off “the flow of excellent people who are coming at the moment”.

The government have so far insisted that reducing student visas should be one of the ways net immigration to the country is reduced.

Anti-immigrant sentiment putting students off

The committee also heard that universities were already seeing the impact of Brexit. Cambridge University has seen a 14% drop in applications from Europe since the referendum. When postgraduate students who had declined offers were asked what had dissuaded them from coming, Professor Barnard said that “concern about anti-immigrant sentiment” was among the reasons.

Those who answered the question offered a range of factors from a concern about anti-immigrant sentiment to devaluation of the pound and the fact that their scholarships would be worth less, although obviously not in the UK, and uncertainty over future research collaboration.”

Professor Catherine Barnard, Camrbridge University

This point about anti-immigration sentiment has got to be one of the saddest and most shameful things to have come out of the referendum.

The committee did hear some positives from the universities. Head of Brexit Strategy at the University of Oxford Alastair Buchan said that the UK could use the opportunity to build more collaborations with countries outside of the EU.

76% of EU academics in the UK considering leaving

It’s not just students being put off Britain. In a survey by the University College Union (UCU) of lecturers and professors, 42% of UK academics – and 76% of non-UK EU academics – said that they were “more likely to consider leaving Britain”. Brexit is already having an impact with 44% of those surveyed saying that they knew academics who had “lost access to research funding” as a result of the vote.

You can find more on the survey at

Government should guarantee EU staff in the UK the right to remain

Sally Hunt, general secretary of UCU said that she was “deeply worried” that so many EU nationals were considering leaving. And she called on the government to guarantee “EU staff already working in the UK the right to remain.”

The longer the government waits to do this, the longer the UK looks less welcome and less open. It’s no wonder that students and teaching staff are much less enthusiastic about being here.

Image: Pembroke College, Cambridge University | © IR Stone / Shutterstock, Inc.
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