What could be the effect of Brexit on the UK Education market?

It's now six weeks since the historic EU referendum that sealed Britain’s exit from the EU. While the actual exit is still over two years away, the reality of the situation is certainly hitting home and many questions are being asked about the new world we find ourselves in. For younger generations who have never known life outside the EU, and for both those studying abroad and for EU students in the UK, the most pressing issue is this: what could be the effect of Brexit on the UK education market and how much is likely to change?


Further education and the EU – The current situation

At the moment there are over 120,000 EU students across the UK, equating to more than 6% of all full-time students in Britain’s universities. This generates over £3 billion for the UK’s economy as well as nearly 20,000 jobs. This level of integration encourages cohesion and diversity in university campuses, both of which are invaluable learning tools.


Over the last few years, an increasing number of British students have chosen to study in other European countries to avoid the whopping British tuition fees and enhance their learning experience. In Maastrict University, Netherlands, students pay just £1,600 in tuition fees per year compared to the UK’s £9,000. Current EU laws make this not only possible, but encouraged and relatively straightforward.


The EU has also invested significant sums of money into British universities, funding projects such as Swansea University’s new innovation centre as well as considerable amounts of funding towards research. Over the last ten years, the UK received nearly £8 billion in research funding from both the European Commission and the European Research Council.


How might Brexit impact on further education?


Senior figures are concerned that Brexit could cause a significant reduction in the numbers of students from across Europe who choose to come to the UK for further education. Once Britain officially leaves the EU, tuition fees may rise as EU students could be treated as international students. This, along with a more complex visa process, is likely to cause a drop in the free movement of students.


This, of course, works both ways. UK students trying to avoid high tuition fees and opting to study in other European countries could find that their tuition costs rise once we leave the EU. The visa process, again, is likely to become more complicated and less attractive for students who are looking for the opportunity to live abroad and experience other cultures while studying.


Brexit and the Erasmus programme


The Erasmus programme is a student exchange programme that provides funding for students who want to study across Europe as part of their degree course. Funded by the EU, Erasmus has been running for over 25 years and in that time over 200,000 British students have benefited from the superb opportunities on offer.


For thousands of British students, Erasmus has transformed their further education experience. By living and studying in another country, students can embrace other cultures, gain essential life skills and truly understand the importance of integration. Over the years the Erasmus programme has enriched lives to the point that 25% of Erasmus students have met their life partner studying abroad, with over 1 million Erasmus babies born to date!


The cultural and educational enrichment of Erasmus has been so significant that many experts are deeply concerned about what the future holds post Brexit. Once Britain leaves the EU, the access that British students could have to this programme looks very uncertain. Britain could face exclusion from this scheme entirely, although students currently using the programme are not at risk and there is some hope that membership of Erasmus could be maintained as part of EU negotiations.


Brexit’s effect on further education – The good news


It’s clear that there are major changes ahead for the UK education market. But what about the positive impact that Brexit could have on further education?


While the visa rules might suddenly seem more complex for EU students once we leave the EU, international students may find the new points-based-system makes access to UK universities more straightforward. The UK’s world class universities are a big pull for international students and this will continue to be the case. Attracting more young talent from around the world is an exciting development and paves the way for a bigger commitment to international collaboration. Similar accessible schemes to Erasmus could be made available to promote studying abroad in Asia or the Americas as part of degree studies, giving young people the chance to get international experience beyond Europe before they even graduate.


There’s undoubtedly a period of significant change ahead for the further education sector post Brexit. But while these are unsettling times, there are certainly good reasons to stay positive. University leaders from 24 countries across Europe have signed a joint statement following the UK’s vote to leave, citing the importance of continued European collaboration and recognising the need to work together through these uncertain times. Perhaps if these core values can remain at the heart of negotiations, then there is a clear way forward for the UK education market after Brexit.


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