At the time of writing, it is very hard to tell what is going to happen. Stepping back from the immediate position, what are the HE policy aspects of Brexit? Of course, if there is a long delay, all bets are off…
The UK receives a disproportionate amount of EU research funding (compared to our financial contribution) which is widely ascribed to the high quality of our research. The UK government would like to continue to participate in EU research funding schemes and they are willing to make a financial contribution. There are precedents for this.
It is likely that a way will eventually be found for the UK to participate at some level in EU research funding, either as part of the final arrangements at the end of the Transition Period or, if there is no withdrawal deal, after separate negotiations.
The EU has said that we shouldn’t receive back more than we pay in, and lots of details would need to be settled.
The UK government has guaranteed any funding in place before we leave.
Although there are lots of anecdotal stories about UK institutions being dropped from potential projects, we have yet to see data that shows a drop off in grants. If the UK leaves without a deal, there will be an impact. However, a deal on research could still be done. Given all the warm words about science and research, let’s hope they would prioritise this.
The big headline is Erasmus, both for staff and student mobility. It is possible for non-EU countries to participate in Erasmus, as long as they contribute financially, and the UK government want to do this. The detailed terms would need to be worked out either during the Transition Period or as a standalone arrangement.
Current EU students will be permitted to complete their courses (and access funding). At some point the UK will stop providing student loans to EU students, which may well affect recruitment of EU students.
EU citizens already living or working in the UK can apply for “settled status”, regardless of whether the Withdrawal Agreement is signed. Staff and students coming here after Brexit will be treated like nationals of most other countries. These rules are under review as part of the new immigration rules, which includes the controversial “floor” on salaries for workers seeking to come to the UK.
For UK staff and students seeking to study, live or work in the EU, ultimately the requirements will depend on the immigration rules of each country.
Short term travel concerns should have been mitigated by the deluge of advice from the government. If you are going to the EU after a no-deal Brexit, make sure you have at least 6 months left on your passport, and have an international driving licence and health insurance. The UK government have said they will not impose extra requirements on EU citizens coming here (yet).
Despite the continued focus on reducing migration to the UK, the government continues to make encouraging statements about welcoming the “brightest and the best” from around the world, and it is to be hoped that this translates into sensible policies.
The rest of the world
At some point the focus will shift to wider opportunities. If the UK does negotiate bilateral trade arrangements with countries around the world, they might include access to research funding, support for collaboration and better mobility arrangements. Over time there may be a positive change in terms of international collaboration. But it will take time to make up the losses.
And the Brexit dividend?
This does feel fantastical, whatever your political perspective on Brexit. Any saving or dividend would be very helpful to a government (of whatever flavour) that will be faced with continuing demands from across the public sector. The UK government will be under pressure to replace EU research funding opportunities and support international research. More immediately, the review of post-18 education and funding would be a good way to spend any spare cash.
There is a lot of work to be done, either during the Transition Period, or after a no-deal Brexit, to address these HE specific concerns. Although many of us have become rather cynical about negotiations with the EU, there is genuinely an element of mutual interest here once we get past the next stage. Fingers crossed.
By Jane Forster, BU Policy Adviser to the Vice Chancellor.