The head of the world’s largest further education union has identified Brexit as the largest threat to higher education in Britain.
Sally Hunt, chair of University and College Union (UCU) voiced her concerns as uncertainty over the agreement of a Brexit deal continues to disrupt higher education planning for post-EU life.
A whole range of issues, including the intake of EU students and the future of European academics at UK institutions are at stake.
An estimated 17% of teaching and research posts at UK universities are filled by EU nationals. A UCU-backed YouGov poll, carried out before the triggering of Article 50 suggested that almost 2/3 of EU academics working in Britain were considering leaving the country.
Around 2,300 academics are believed to have already resigned their positions at UK universities since the referendum in June 2016.
However, perhaps the most pressing issue is the future of higher education research in the UK – with substantial backing provided by EU funds.
4 of the 10 Universities that will profit most from the EU’s flagship Horizon scheme – that will invest almost €80 Billion in collaborative research up to 2020 – are based in the UK, claimed Sally Hunt.
Hunt said further, “Without a deal, funding streams will be at risk and any longer-term planning will take place without our involvement. This risks leaving research projects and collaborations on hold or collapsing altogether.”
The Government has already pledged to fund EU-backed projects until the end of the decade, post-Brexit.
The ease of access to UK Higher Education is another crucial issue, with Hunt stressing that “A no-deal Brexit would also mean freedom of movement would no longer apply, leaving EU staff and students in the lurch.”
She was also quick to emphasise that the challenge Brexit posed to the country and further education was one of the biggest nationally, regardless of whether or not a deal with the EU was secured.
Professionals in Hunt’s field have already urged the government to realise the need for contingency planning for the industry’s future after March 2019.
The UCU is currently in the process of holding a vote on its members’ position on a second EU Referendum – the results are expected on 10th October.