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Forging international ties in the wake of Brexit

Diversity Travel's Christopher Airey says broadening horizons is key to sustaining our Great British institutions

Posted by Rob Bertels | September 17, 2017 | International

There is currently a great deal of uncertainty around the future of the UK higher education sector following the result of the EU Referendum and the confusion surrounding the details of Brexit. Recent news has highlighted concerns that institutions may lose up to 15 per cent of staff unless freedom of movement is maintained, with universities now moving to open branches inside the European Union in efforts to soften the blow of Britain’s exit. Perhaps most acute is the fear that the UK’s global reputation for higher education and research could be at risk, with more than 80 per cent of university chiefs saying in a recent survey that the threat to funding from the EU is “considerable”.

The UK is currently a net contributor to the EU budget. Between 2007 and 2013, the UK contributed €77.7 billion to the EU, and received €47.5 billion of funding in return. Despite this, however, the UK is one of the largest recipients of research funding in the EU. The UK Office of National Statistics reports an indicative figure for the UK’s contribution to EU research and development of €5.4 billion between 2007 and 2013. During this time, the UK received €8.8 billion in direct EU funding for research, development and innovation activities. The widespread concern that this will negatively impact the UK higher education landscape is, therefore, justified.

It is evident from international student numbers that UK degrees are still considered highly prestigious

In terms of thinking about the future, one need only look to the UK’s existing track record of successfully building relationships and collaborating with non-EU countries. Far from being an unattainable goal, and a potential threat to our reputation and global standing, cementing ties with institutions around the world is something that UK universities already do, and do well.

The UK is a world leader in internationally collaborative research. A huge 46.3 per cent of UK research publications involved international collaboration in 2012, and since 2003 the rate has grown faster than any of its key competitors (with the exception of the USA).

More than this, it is evident from international student numbers that UK degrees are still considered highly prestigious. In the year 2014/15, the UK attracted almost 400,000 international students, making it one of the most popular study destinations in the world. Furthermore, of the 2014-15 intake, from the top 20 countries of student origin, 86,620 arrivals were from the EU, compared to 209,575 – more than double – from elsewhere in the world. This highlights that the UK already successfully attracts students from across the globe, and is testament the global recognition of the value of a British education.

The threat of Brexit has caused consternation in almost every UK industry, and with current calls for Britain to step up its exporting performance in an effort to mitigate the economic costs associated with Brexit, now is the time for us to make the most of one of our biggest and boldest export markets: education

The threat of Brexit has caused consternation in almost every UK industry, and with current calls for Britain to step up its exporting performance in an effort to mitigate the economic costs associated with Brexit, now is the time for us to make the most of one of our biggest and boldest export markets: education. Academic travel has arguably never been as important or necessary as now.

Far from bending to the suggestion that the UK will become inward-facing following its departure from the EU, universities across Britain should be taking full advantage of this opportunity to develop new, and enhance existing, relationships with institutions around the world.

The scale of what is now needed from UK institutions requires a structured and easy-to manage approach. Universities should now be able to turn confidently to their travel management partner to create a seamless plan of action, to allow academics to focus on the task at hand, bolstering our reputation worldwide and showing that the UK does, truly, mean business.

Christopher Airey is Managing Director of Diversity Travel, a travel management company specialising in academic, charity, and not-for-profit travel. 

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