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31st October 2018

Prepare for ‘possible disaster’ post-Brexit say academics

Oxford’s Chris Gosden has led calls to tackle the crippling uncertainty for UK Institutions
Prepare for ‘possible disaster’ post-Brexit say academics
Photo: Duncan Hill @ Flickr

University academics have issued a fresh warning on the future of higher education in the UK post-Brexit.

University staff and students alike remain unsure of the future of EU-backed programs at their institutions, with particular concern over Erasmus and research grants.

As political division over the proposed Chequers plan continues, the possibility of a no-deal exit looms, with the March 29th deadline nearing ever closer.

Ease of access for international students after March 2019 was said to have been dealt with in a Brexit White Paper released in July. Shrouded in ambiguity, the document confirmed an end to free movement, but assured that steps would be taken to “facilitate mobility for students so they can benefit from world-leading universities”.

The government has also moved to reduce speculation over research, having guaranteed the supply of all funding from the EU’s headline Horizon programme until 2020, should its provisions be affected by the UK’s agreement with the EU or lack thereof.

Despite this, with no arrangements currently in place to deal with the possibility of the loss of research grants post-2020, leading figures across the Russell Group have spoken out over continuing uncertainty in the field of higher education.

Chris Gosden, director of the Archaeology Institute at Oxford, has described preparing for a possible disaster post-Brexit. His institution his received 10 major grants from the European Research Council since 2007.

His colleague, Simon Marginson, professor of higher education at the University, foresees a problematic exit from the EU. Marginson is currently researching the impact of Brexit on UK universities and has warned against increasing research partnerships outside of the continent as a solution, arguing that Europe boasts an exclusive of cross-country co-operation in the area.

“In my judgment, we are likely to have a hard Brexit or at best an unresolved research funding picture. In terms of people in research and higher education, the fallout will be massive”.

Cardiff University has begun outlining schemes to move academics abroad, in the hope that their researchers will retain access to European finances should they spend the majority of their time in EU member states.

Other Russell Group institutions are also exploring the possibility of implementing similar measures, with catastrophic forecasts for post-EU life. Lee Cronin, regius professor of Chemistry at Glasgow spoke of the possibly detrimental results for the scientific community: “The simple fact is that without alignment, UK science crashes out of the biggest collaborative network ever built in the history of humanity”.

Industry-leading figures, including Russell Group chair Anton Muscatelli and UCU chief Sally Hunt, have already called upon the government to safeguard research in the event of a failure to secure a deal with Brussels.

Hunt’s UCU, amid rising concerns among university staff over Brexit, commissioned a ballot assessing the membership’s support for a vote on the final deal. Although an overwhelming 89% endorsed such a referendum, Prime Minister Theresa May has already ruled out such a vote.

There is a consensus building fast among those in higher education that the field has been relegated to a second priority for the government in their ongoing negotiations. Chancellor Phillip Hammond’s budget was criticised failing to seriously address the state of Higher Education in the country with the only major policy announced was funding for 10 University Enterprise Zones, areas in which universities and local businesses work together to achieve local growth and innovation.

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