The impact of exiting the European Union on Higher Education inquiry - our response

Posted by hl11 at Nov 14, 2016 09:45 AM |

We are responding on behalf of the HE Committee of the English Association to a selection of the topics posed. The English Association was founded in 1906 and granted a Royal Charter in 2006 to further knowledge, understanding and enjoyment of the English language and its literatures and to foster good practice in its teaching and learning at all levels, from primary school to Higher Education. This is the response of the HE Committee.

The future of the Erasmus+ programme following the withdrawal of the UK from the EU

The Erasmus programme is one of the EU’s most enriching and inspiring initiatives; it is greatly valued by staff and students in departments of English across the UK. It has obvious value for those who study abroad but it is equally important for those who remain at home as incoming Erasmus students enrich the cultural and academic diversity of a department. This programme immerses students in a different language environment, but it also introduces them to diverse approaches to literary study deriving from other European literatures and schools of thought. This is a programme that brings cultural diversity to many different parts of the UK. There are good stories to be told about the many positive benefits, including employability, that it offers to graduates who have lived and studied in the EU even for a short time. For a University that wants to be outward-facing, the Erasmus scheme is essential and should continue to be supported after Brexit, even if in a different form.

How changes to freedom of movement rules may affect students and academics in English higher education institutions

90% of the academic community voted Remain and there are good reasons for that. Excellent teaching and research – the two intersect in our disciplines - cross geographical as well as disciplinary boundaries and require the free exchange of ideas, academics and students across borders. To maintain the outstanding reputation of the student experience at Universities in the UK we need to continue to attract and retain the best scientists, medics, social scientists, and scholars in the arts and humanities regardless of where they come from. This is as true of English Literature, Language and Creative Writing as it is of other disciplines.

It is also essential that we give students an experience that is international in outlook. Will EU colleagues already in the UK want to stay? Will we remain an attractive destination for the best teachers in the EU? The same is true of students too. There is strong evidence of the economic benefit that international students bring to the UK, conservatively estimated at £10.7bn annually.

We regret the continuing high level of uncertainty over fees and funding in this post-referendum period. Will postgraduate students from the EU still qualify for fees-only awards from AHRC in 2017 and beyond? Jo Johnson has said government will continue current arrangements for October 2017 starters, but there has been no confirmation in writing yet. Moreover, universities need longer-term planning.

The Home Secretary recently suggested that visas should be issued differentially depending on the quality of universities. We would respectfully point out that the Teaching Excellence Framework has not been designed for the purpose of controlling student visas. It takes little account of international students per se and focuses very much on undergraduates, while the majority of international students are postgraduate. There has been a pilot, not yet completed, which would take a risk-based approach using visa refusal rates (the proportion of visa applications that are unsuccessful across each university). It is clear that such an approach could tend to discriminate against smaller universities where a very small number of refusals could have a large proportionate effect, and may in any case say more about the application process than the applicant or the university concerned'.

Our concerns relate not just to the practical outcomes of the Brexit negotiations. The anti-immigrant rhetoric of British politicians and the media is extremely damaging to the international standing of UK universities. It is also disrespectful of the hard work, civic values, and inclusiveness promoted by staff and students, wherever they come from.

What steps the Government should take to mitigate any possible risks and take advantage of any opportunities

As the above responses suggest, we need reassurances that funding will be in place to protect future shortfalls, and more information on what that will look like. We also expect positive public statements that the UK government values the contribution of students and staff from the EU.

What the Government's priorities should be during negotiations for the UK to exit the EU with regard to students and staff at higher education institutions

Permanent residency should be automatically granted to EU University staff already in post and who have been here for 5 years or longer, while freedom of movement should be guaranteed for EU students. The new differential visa policy proposed by the Home Secretary, as a follow-on from Brexit, should be scrapped: international students are not migrants, and should not count in the net migration figures that the government wishes to reduce.

EU students should continue to pay the same fees as home students, and they should continue to have access to the same loans and grants.

Yours sincerely,

Professor Jennifer Richards (Newcastle University, Chair of The English Association’s HE Committee)

Dr Adrian Barlow, (President of The English Association)

Professor Martin Halliwell (Leicester University, Chair of The English Association)

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