Union President and professors discuss universities after Brexit

Image courtesy of: Current Affairs Society

On 31 October, the Current Affairs Society hosted a panel discussion on Universities and Brexit, which included the President of Kent Union and Emeritus Professors at the University of Kent.

The impact of Brexit on University students was one of the main topics of the discussion. Both speakers agreed that Brexit will diminish the number of international students moving to the UK for their degrees.

Professor Vickerman, Emeritus Professor of European Economics, pointed out that the current uncertainty, fuelled by yet another extension, is specifically to blame.

Sasha Langeveldt, Kent Union’s President, initially focused on what Kent Union is doing to support European and International students.

She reminded to the audience that Kent Union are running a dedicated Brexit help point through the Advice Centre in the Mandela building and encourages International students to apply for Settled and Pre-settled status.

She also mentioned that a dedicated email address (studentEUqueries@kent.ac.uk) has been created and expressed the hope that more students will take advantage of these services in the future.

While both speakers pointed out the risk of Brexit negatively affecting the vibrant and inclusive university environment, Professor Vickerman argued that Universities like Kent will be the most affected.

Professor Vickerman said that while the UK as a whole might result less attractive to academics of international reputation and competitive PhD candidates, Oxbridge or London based institutions will continue to draw in talent.

For less prestigious Universities the end of freedom of movement might cause a recruitment problem, he added, as European teaching staff alone hold over 1 in 5 positions.

A loss of international talent will affect the quality of UK Universities and its consequences could be felt significantly in 10 to 15 years, the Professor said, answering a question about the value of UK degrees after Brexit.

The discussion then shifted to the Erasmus scheme, with Sasha pointing out that student mobility doesn’t only affect those who study abroad but also reflects more broadly on student experience, both through societies and during academic debates.

Vickerman, who was the University of Kent’s Dean for Europe in 2014-2017 in Brussels, said that Kent has many exchange programmes in place, especially through its European campuses in Paris, Brussels, Rome and Athens.

He added that there is a chance that more Universities will try to expand their partnerships with Asian institutions, whose teaching quality and research output is increasing quickly.

Kent Union’s objective, Sasha said, is to spread awareness of Brexit’s consequences – especially among UK students who don’t think they will be directly affected by it.

She added that it will be important to continue fostering an inclusive and welcoming environment, most notably by encouraging more emphatic attitudes among fellow students.

The possibility of a Second Referendum was amply discussed by both speakers. While Professor Vickerman seemed unconvinced that a Referendum could solve an issue as complex as Brexit, Sasha expressed Kent Union’s support for a “People’s Vote”.

Since the Union has officially declared its support for a second referendum last year, students were encouraged to participate in a ‘People’s March’ in London.

After the panel, the discussion was concluded by a Q&A session that expanded on the possible strategies and drawbacks of a second referendum.

Sasha expressed hope for a People’s Vote campaign based on truthful claims and reasonable promises while Professor Vickerman concluded the discussion by wishing that public opinion would move from entrenched views towards a more articulate debate on Brexit and its consequences.