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United Kingdom: University heads want to be heard during Brexit talks

Work and residency rights of EU staff working in UK universities remain the most pressing issue for the higher education sector. Source: Shutterstock

As the United Kingdom heads into “historic” talks to negotiate its leave from the European Union, university heads want a seat on the table to ensure their views are included, according to a statement by Universities UK last Saturday.

Citing the election results as proof the public wants a Brexit that is “outward-looking” and “internationally-minded”, the advocacy organisation asked the UK government to preserve British universities’ international links.

“As Brexit talks begin, it’s important the voice of universities is heard clearly in the negotiations,” Universities UK president and University of Kent vice-chancellor Dame Julia Goodfellow said.

“Through exit negotiations, the UK government must ensure the UK continues to welcome, with minimal barriers, talented EU students and staff. They should also make sure the UK can continue to access valuable and collaborative European research networks and programmes as well as Erasmus+ and other mobility programmes,” she said.

But the work and residency rights of EU staff working in UK universities remain the most pressing issue for the higher education sector, which the body stressed should be the talk’s “most urgent priority”.

EU students and staff in UK universities are uncertain about their future post-Brexit. Source: Reuters/Peter Nicholls

Here are Universities UK’s five priorities for the exit negotiations:

  • Agree on the residency and work rights for EU nationals currently working in the university sector, and their dependents, including full access to public services;
  • Secure continued UK participation in the EU’s research and innovation programme Horizon 2020 until the end of the programme;
  • Negotiate UK access to, and influence over, the Framework Programme 9 – the next research and innovation programme – ensuring it maintains a focus on excellence;
  • Secure continued access to Erasmus+ and the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions mobility programmes;
  • Preserve and build on regulatory and standards equivalence with other EU countries, including continued recognition of professional qualifications between the UK and EU member states.

Britain’s Secretary for Exiting the European Union David Davis. Source: Reuters/Phil Noble.

The Brexit talks are taking place now despite the UK’s inconclusive general election results, which saw the ruling Conservative party lose seats and the opposition Labour party gaining a dramatic rise in the number of votes.

Labour’s rise is seen to be backed by voters who voted to remain in the bloc, which some feel will drive Prime Minister Theresa May to seek a softer Brexit instead of a complete withdrawal from the EU.

As the UK deals with challenges from Brexit, including loss of education grants and research opportunities from the bloc, Goodfellow said UK universities could be the antidote to such trials.

“A thriving university sector that drives local economic growth and builds global connections, will be
key to the UK making a long-term success of Brexit.”

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