After the turmoil unleashed by the UK vote to leave the European Union, the British government sought to reassure university students and staff by emphatically ruling out immediate changes to current education arrangements.

Jo Johnson, Minister of State for Universities and Science, released a statement reaffirming the status quo for EU students and nationals in the UK. Reiterating outgoing Prime Minister David Cameron’s statement, Johnson promised “no immediate changes” to the status of EU nationals studying or working at UK universities as well as UK citizens doing the same in the EU.

He said there would be no immediate change to visa policies for “students, visitors, businesses and entrepreneurs who are already in the UK or who wish to come here.”

Johnson also confirmed that EU students would “continue to receive funding for the duration of their courses.”

Looking forward to the future of British education, he said, “There are obviously big discussions to be had with our European partners, and I look forward to working with the sector to ensure its voice is fully represented and that it continues to go from strength to strength.”

“The key thing is to say in legal terms, nothing has changed overnight as a result of the decision last Friday. We remain in the European Research Area. Horizon 2020 funding continues to flow during this period.

“The message is British science and innovation will endure. Now, more than ever, we have to focus on what it is that makes British science truly world-class,” Mr Johnson added.

While the UK currently retains full membership to the European Union, there will come a point in the near future where research partnerships will cease as a result of the Brexit decision.

According to Universities UK (UUK), UK higher education providers attracted more than £836m in EU-funded research grants in 2014-15. While many sector professionals believe the UK Government will make up any future shortfalls when it comes to research funding, The Conversation notes that there is no guarantee.

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of UUK, said it was “the networks that EU membership enabled which were so important to university academics – we really rely on those collaborations.”

Dandridge added that UUK’s priority would be to “make sure we can preserve what is best about that EU engagement in terms of our staff, our students and our research collaborations…We need to get the balance right between acknowledging that we need to be positive and engaged and constructive about the future, but not minimise the seriousness of the issue at stake.

“There were assurances given about making up any financial shortfall by those on the Leave Campaign – we will continue to press those cases,” Dandridge concludes.

Students and education professionals alike now fear for the future of the prestigious ERASMUS exchange scheme, a student exchange programme that has benefitted more 200,000 UK students.

The UK’s historic decision to leave the EU, which followed a campaign tarnished with heavy anti-immigrant rhetoric, has not only thrown question to the future of ERASMUS, but also to the future of the UK as a desirable study abroad destination for EU students, who currently account for five percent of students at UK universities.

Times Higher Education reports that UUK representatives will travel to Brussels in two weeks’ time “to try and open discussions with our European colleagues and with the [European] Commission.”

Image via Flickr.

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