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Brexit: UK academic community frets over funding, tuition fees, brain drain

As the world struggles to absorb the full impact of Thursday’s Brexit vote, the U.K.’s academic community has voiced worries about possible loss of funding, changes to tuition fees, and a serious brain drain. Through polls and official statements, the community strongly backed the U.K.’s membership in the European Union, and is now left to deal with the referendum’s fallout.

The president of the National Union of Students, Megan Dunn, wrote to outgoing British Prime Minister David Cameron, urging him to ensure that students and young people are fully consulted over upcoming decisions, likely a reference to the negotiations between the U.K. and the EU over the former’s exit.

“Higher education receives considerable funding through EU institutions, and this result will place significant pressures onto our universities. Students will be concerned that any removal of this funding could have implications for the support they receive, and this concern will of course be greatest for the most vulnerable students,” wrote Dunn.

Possible changes to tuition fees have many students and educators fretting. The director of University College London (UCL) School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES), Jan Kubik, sought to reassure EU students that they remain unaffected by the vote at least for the time being.

“UCL has, however, confirmed that it has no plans to change the tuition fees for EU students that have already been published for 2016/17. EU students who are registered at the university in 2016/17 (either as a new or continuing student) will continue to be charged the home rate for tuition fees for all subsequent years of their programme,” Kubik wrote.

However, fears of tuition fee hikes are only growing. Thomas Byrne, the education spokesperson for Fianna Fail (one of Ireland’s major political parties), warned of possible tuition hikes for Irish students in the UK as well as UK students in Ireland.

“The result of the Brexit vote and the proposed move by Britain to leave the EU could see Irish students having to pay very costly non-EU fees to study in Britain and Northern Ireland,” Byrne told The Irish Times.

“Similarly, students from Britain and Northern Ireland will have to pay non-EU fees to study in Irish universities and ITs.”

There is also concern that Brexit may trigger an outflow of intellectual talent, seriously damaging the UK’s standing as a global hub for science and research.

Describing himself as “dispirited and disappointed” with the Brexit vote, Professor Simon Wessely – the president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists – told The Independent that, “Whilst I don’t believe that people voted to leave the EU with science and health foremost in their minds, I fear that the consequences for both will be serious over the coming year unless we take firm and decisive action now.

“I hope that ways will be found to reassure all those non-UK EU citizens who work in science or the NHS that their futures are secure here, and that we will make sure that whatever happens the UK remains an attractive place for others to come and help take medical science and the NHS forward.”

Researchers working in the UK were overwhelmingly in favor of the UK remaining in the EU. In a March poll by Nature, a whopping 83 percent of them said they wanted the UK to stick with its EU membership.

Image via Flickr.

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