Much like the well known nursery rhyme, the build up to the EU referendum has been a cacophony of ‘in out, in out, shake it all about’. But if we do the votey votey and we turn around, was it really that well thought out? Who should we beLEAVE? Whose claims should we take with a non-metric ounce of salt? Should we just flip a coin? – If so, a pound or euro? This short article will wade through some of the referendum’s impact on higher education in the UK.
Currently, students from the EU who come to study at UK universities pay the same as ‘Home’ (UK) students – averaging £9,000 per year. They can also access a loan from the UK government for the full tuition cost, do not need to pay any fees upfront and do not require a visa. Students from outside the EU classed as ‘Overseas’, are not eligible for any tuition fee support from the UK government, require a visa and are charged an eye-watering £15-25k tuition fee per year for the same course.
The UK currently benefits from a £3.7bn contribution to the British economy, as well as 34,000 extra jobs – thanks to 5.5% of university students in UK universities being from the EU. Studies have found that 80% of these EU students would not find the UK an attractive place to study in the event of leaving. This is due to the potential increase of fees to the ‘Overseas’ price, the removal of the cohesive UK/EU relationship and a feared additional bureaucracy. There would also be ramifications on non-EU international students; with 34% of Chinese, 48% of Indian and 45% of US students claiming they would turn away from studying in a non-EU United Kingdom. Leaving the EU would undoubtedly weaken the competitive position of the UK, vis-à-vis other major study destinations in the EU and further afield.
Reports indicate that many of the EU students who do come to study here do not go back to their home countries after they graduate. How scandalous? Accounting for 28% of the UK’s net migration in 2015, these 93,000 (out of 131,000 EU students overall) ARE NOT RETURNING HOME. Well, what are they doing here; stealing our jobs, claiming our benefits, impregnating our women? Well no. In fact, they are over here, doing some of the highly skilled jobs our public sector relies on, paying their taxes and embarking upon postgraduate courses. With more than 40,000 EU migrants working in the NHS and 600,000 EU migrants working in Britain’s public sector jobs; the benefits of being part of the free movement of labour are clear to see - It drives growth, generates jobs and improves peoples lives.
Currently, UK students have a chance to enroll on the Erasmus exchange programme. This has enabled more than 200,000 UK students and 20,000 university staff to study or work within European universities; promoting international mobility and partnerships. These cultural and educational exchanges prepare students for an increasingly international jobs market that require cultural knowledge, experience and sensitivity that comes from international experience. Leaving the EU would put UK student’s ability to embark on the Erasmus programme in limbo.
Around 15% of the UK’s universities teaching and research staff are non-British EU nationals. Our membership of the EU attracts these highly talented and world-renowned specialists in their field. Currently, more than half the European Research Council’s (ERC) prestigious mid-career grants in UK universities are held by researchers from non-British EU staff. Losing international teaching and research talent through administrative burdens of UK visas and lack of international cooperation would damage the reputation of British universities and impact their global profile and position in international rankings.
Leaving the EU would result in losing billions of pounds in funding towards research. Out of the €7.3billion ERC funding, the UK receives significantly more than anyone else – at €1.7billion. In all, the UK secures a disproportionate amount of EU research, development and innovation funding at over €6billion. Much of this funding currently enables prestigious UK institutions to compete on the world stage - retaining their great reputations with top academic talent and collaboration with EU academics. On a wider platform, EU funded projects do actually influence our lives. With green energy and transport solutions; aircraft emission reductions; nanoparticles that detect early-stage cancer; stem cell diabetes treatment; battling the antibiotic proof superbug and reduction in water waste all currently being researched in the UK and funded by the FP7 [now Horizon 2020] EU research and innovation funding programme. In fact, the electric buses you may now sit on in London, the cancer treatments you may need, the 3D printed prosthetic limbs you may require and the recent breakthrough in the fight against Ebola… were all developed in the UK through EU funding and collaboration. For a country with 0.9% of the world's population, but 6.9% of global scientific output, we should not take for granted both our country and the wider global community’s benefit from this research funding.
As well as research funding, the UK benefits hugely from cash and loans for regional development and structural funds to build new education or research infrastructures, such as laboratories or lecture theatres. Leaving the EU and subsequent cuts to research, funding and the pool of EU talent would substantially cripple the UK’s innovation, development, infrastructure and reputation.
So on the 23rd of June, I firstly urge everyone to vote. Secondly, echoing 103 university vice-chancellors who signed an open letter published in The Sunday Times, I urge you to consider the role the EU plays in strengthening the UK’s higher education institutions and vote to remain in the European Union.
Student of Commercial Law (LLM), University of Bristol Law School.