Political consultants Harriet Jones and Victoria Hemmingway set out recent polling showing MPs have very mixed views on how attractive the UK will be to study in following Brexit.
Access to EU funding and collaboration will be a contentious matter during negotiations. Credit: PA
Higher education was one of the most united sectors in the Remain camp ahead of the referendum, with very strong messages about the risk Brexit posed to the UK’s universities, including from Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson.
These concerns were largely reflected by parliamentarians in that over half of MPs asked in a recent Dods poll, conducted in July 2016, thought leaving the EU would have a negative impact on the financial stability of UK higher education.
Jo Johnson provided reassuring words soon after the decision to leave the European Union, stating “the referendum result has no immediate effect on those applying to or participating in Horizon 2020.”
“But in spite of this, there have been media reports that UK researchers collaborating with EU partners have already been asked to “leave EU-funded projects or to step down from leadership roles because they are considered a financial liability.”
According to the poll, Labour MPs were most concerned, having questioned the timing of the Higher Education and Research Bill at second reading given the uncertainty felt in the sector.
Asked whether a Brexit would dissuade EU students from choosing to study in the UK, there was a big discrepancy in MP views by party. It found 89 per cent of Labour MPs polled thought Brexit would dissuade EU students studying in the UK compared to only 8 per cent of Conservative MPs.
This runs contrary to the findings of international student recruiter Hobsons, that almost half of students in the EU who had applied to UK universities thought a Brexit would make UK study less attractive. These findings, along with those of ExEdUK that the decline in international students since 2011/12 had already cost the UK £1.1bn, could provide a strong message the higher education sector can relay to parliament.
The impact of Brexit upon higher education is not the only concern amongst parliamentarians. According to another Dods poll, 94 per cent of participating Labour MPs also felt Brexit would have a prejudicial impact upon the financial stability of the research sector.
As one of the largest recipients of funding in the EU, the UK research sector benefitted from €8.8bn in direct funds from 2007-2013. With this funding stream now in the lurch, there is much apprehension amongst those conducting research up and down the country.
In contrast, a rosier outlook is evident amongst Conservative MPs; 87 per cent of those polled felt Brexit would have no impact, or in fact a positive one, upon the financial stability of the research sector in the UK.
Writing for the Times Higher Education prior to the referendum, Angus Dalgleish, a professor of oncology at St George’s University of London, expressed this opinion too. He argued the research sector was not in peril, noting that European collaboration was well established and had been in place prior to the Lisbon Treaty.
Access to EU funding and collaboration will undoubtedly be a contentious matter during negotiations over the next few years. With the creation of UK Research and Innovation as a part of the Higher Education and Research Bill, Brexit adds to a period of uncertainty and flux for the research sector.