Future collaborations between British and European universities are at risk of being increasingly confined to an elite ‘club’ of research-intensive institutions, an academic from the UCL Institute of Education has warned.
Voicing his concerns in The Times Higher Education last week, Ludovic Highman highlighted that the security provided for less prestigious institutions through the bottom-up structure of European Union programmes would be lost post-Brexit. These universities are likely to find themselves excluded from new partnership deals with EU institutions and will be disadvantaged by formal ‘tie-up’ deals — usually selected by vice-chancellors and presidents. This follows after Universities UK International confirmed provisional data released in February of this year showed a dwindling in UK universities’ transnational education activity, after years of strong growth.
At present, British and European universities are able to freely choose which institutions they want to work with. However, Brexit will cause a “rationalisation” of partnerships between EU and British institutions, Dr Highman has warned, as “research-intensive univerisites in the UK prioritise engagement with other research-intensive universities.” Dr Highman also advised that this impact will stretch beyond relations with the European Union, as universities are encouraged to solidify links with Commonwealth Institutions. This is likely to leave poorer nations out in the cold, with universities likely to focus on building deals with countries with headline institutions, such as Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. “No one is talking about Uganda or Pakistan”, Dr Highman continued.
However, despite being a member of the Russell Group, Brexit has already had a notable impact on The University of Manchester. Last year, the university blamed the uncertainties caused by Brexit for plans to axe 171 jobs, 140 of which were academic roles in the faculties of arts, languages, biology, medicine, and business. Similar fears were also replicated later in the year following official figures released by Universities UK, which suggested that The University of Manchester would be at risk of losing millions of pounds of EU funding for pivotal scientific research as a result of Brexit.
Talking to The Mancunion, a spokesperson for the University of Manchester assured that: “Though there remain uncertainties over the movement of students and staff, and in terms of access to research funding post-Brexit, we are — and will remain — a global university that embraces staff, students, and academic and business partnerships from across the world, and we will continue to have close relationships with universities worldwide.
“Applications to the Erasmus+ programme which are submitted while the UK is still a Member State of the EU — even if they are not approved until after we leave — can also continue beyond the point of exit.
“The University will also continue to make representations in support of our staff, students, and collaborators who are affected in different ways by the consequences of Brexit. These efforts include private discussions with ministers, officials, parliamentarians, and associations in the UK and the rest of Europe, and working to exert influence through national bodies.”