Leading academics have branded a no deal Brexit as “one of the biggest threats” ever encountered by universities, adding that “it would take decades” for the sector to recover.
The heads of 150 UK universities and university groups—including Universities UK, the Russell Group and Guild H—have written a joint letter to Members of Parliament stating that "vital research links will be compromised, from new cancer treatments to technologies combating climate change. The valuable exchange of students, staff and knowledge would be seriously damaged.”
It has not been confirmed that the University of Kent is one of these signatories.
But academics such as Dr Phillip Cunliffe, who backs a clean Brexit, claims that university organisations are “confusing the constitutionally damaging withdrawal agreement, which must be voted down, with the future partnership, which is yet to be agreed”.
In a letter for the Guardian, he writes: “The idea that whole countries should be forced into political servitude in order to qualify for academic or scientific mutual exchange is ridiculous, illogical and completely without evidence.
“Now is the moment to tell the EU that the UK will be a close partner in academic research in the same way as 15 non-EU nation states are at present and that the UK will pay its way, as we did before. This is a win-win situation which does not require the UK to surrender sovereignty or accept destructive conditions.”
According to UKCISA, during the 2016-17 academic year, 138,000 university students in the UK came from the European Union (EU). With every student pay an average of £9,000 towards their university per annum, £1.2 billion in university revenue on an annual basis is brought into the country.
The realization of a no deal Brexit may hinder the ease of movement of EU students, also implying an increase in their tuition fees.
Many are anticipating a drop in the number of European students, accompanied by lower funds possessed by the universities.
The Russel Group reveal this to be already happening by declaring that the number of EU students enrolling in British institutions has “fallen for the first time in five years”. It argues that EU is an “irreplaceable source of funding for UK universities”.
As of December 2018, there has been a 3% decrease in the number of EU students enrolling on courses this academic year (2018/19), with the biggest drop in postgraduate research courses.
Universities are also concerned about government’s proposal on migration, which was outlined in a White paper published during the Christmas period.
There may be greater restrictions on EU students after Brexit, as 130,000 students will need to have study visas and be sponsored by universities. Critics have branded this initiative as "unrealistic and unsustainable".
Funding does not only involve student’s tuition fees, but also the inflows from European research funding schemes. British Influence statistics indicate that universities in the UK receive an additional 15% in funding from the European Union for research and development, on top of what the UK government already provides them with.
This is the same as 2.6% of universities’ total income, or in numerical terms £730 million per year.
Leaving the European Union without an agreement puts these funds at risk and in addition encourages world-leading academics and researchers to leave to other countries with more stable research programs.
Vital UK research ranging from cancer treatments to combating climate change could be “compromised”.
Nick Hilman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) think tank, predicts a 57% drop in the number of students from EU, which equates to a £700 million loss in revenue.
There are additional claims that a no deal Brexit may require a government bailout to keep the educational sector operating.
On the other hand, some of the funds saved from the £10 billion net contribution to the European budget could be apportioned to finance universities.
Some academics argue that research is an area where we “get back proportionally more than we put in”.
Last week in the House of Commons Rosie Duffield, Member of Parliament for Canterbury, told the government that neither the University of Kent nor Canterbury Christ Church University have received any communication from the Brexit minister or his Department. She branded this revelation as a “real let down”.
The Labour MP followed up on this speech with a Facebook post, writing: “I'm worried about how Brexit is going to affect us as a University town. With academic staff preparing to leave, funding at threat, and EU students being deterred from joining us, I'm glad the Minister has finally agreed to reach out to our universities and address their concerns.”
The University of Kent have been approached for comment and have yet to respond.