student protest brexit
Students carrying a poster saying, "You stole our future from us" as part of protests against Brexit in front of the House of Parliament in London, UK, 2016. Source: Shutterstock

With Brexit negotiations to close in March 2019, universities are demanding clarity over what the decision will mean for European universities and beyond.

Although there are still 18 months until Brexit negotiations draw to a close, decisions in academia are made today and paid tomorrow. Undergraduate degree programmes are typically three years, and research posts can be even longer.

This means it is crucial for universities to have forewarning about any political decisions that will impact them.

Currently, UK universities receive £1 billion (US$1.32 billion) in EU funding for research, reports Top Universities. If this funding is lost as a result of Brexit, UK universities will have to strip back on research projects and staff. It is therefore impossible for universities plan for the future, not especially when uncertainty continues to hang over every aspect of their operation.

A statement that has been signed by European universities says: “European consortia are already being formed and bids designed ready to be submitted after March 2019,” according to The Guardian.

The prestigious Russell Group universities in the UK are integral to worldwide academic research, second only to the US. For the frontiers of knowledge to continue being pushed forward, these universities must know what the future of their institutions are, and how their relationships with other universities will be affected.

“Universities must know which, if any, measures they need to undertake in the future to enable their students to thrive and their researchers to continue their innovative research,” the statement continues.

However, Universities Minister Jo Johnson told The Guardian: “We want to remain a player in European science, research and innovation programmes. And we will continue to attract the best talent from across the world, including the EU.”

The lack of knowledge about what Brexit will mean for UK universities also has a negative impact on international students who are considering studying in the UK.

Prospective EU students are likely to be disheartened to apply to UK universities as it is unclear what the visa requirements and tuition fees will be in the near future.

Top Universities commented that due to immigration being a hot topic in Brexit debates, it is likely that EU students will have to apply for a Tier 4 student visa or a short-term study visa in order to study in the UK.

“We’re continuing to provide significant certainty to EU students that they are welcome and valued here, we’ve made clear they’re able to access the higher education funding system,” the universities minister claimed.

Universities Minister Jo Johnson. Source: Shutterstock

Additionally, it is uncertain if UK universities will continue to participate in the Erasmus programme; an international student exchange initiative that has proven very popular with participants.

“I feel bereaved by Brexit, and if it leads to the end of freedom of movement and exclusion of the UK from Erasmus, this would be devastating – a tragedy of staggering proportions for universities throughout the country, for the structured internationalisation of our academic institutions, which is what Erasmus is all about,” Dr. Ceri Jones, the European Commission’s employment and social policy director-general, told The Guardian.

So far, the UK government has reassured members of the academic community that doors will be kept open with other EU institutions. However, until a final deal is confirmed, the future of UK universities internationalism remains unclear.

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