How can HE boost international collaboration?

Anne-May Janssen, Head of European Engagement, Universities UK International, on maximising HE's European profile and helping unis thrive post-Brexit

What do you think will be the most significant challenge facing higher education post EU exit?

UK higher education institutions have far-reaching ties and collaborative partnerships with their European counterparts across the continent, in both research and education. Keeping that collaboration at the same high level and standard is very important. That collaborative nature of the sector translates itself into a number of risks which we’ve identified and are lobbying the UK Government to address in exit negotiations. Risks include weakening the UK HE sector’s reputation as a collaborator of choice in vital research; losing access to key funding mechanisms; slipping further behind competitors in sending students abroad as part of their degrees; losing our EU academics; and a steep decline in EU student enrolment to UK universities.

Universities UK is in regular dialogue with UK Government, EU officials and our European counterparts to make sure that the sector’s positions are understood and to secure an effective post-exit settlement for universities. This should include full access to Horizon 2020 and its successor programme Horizon Europe, as well as full access to Erasmus+ and its successor programme Erasmus.

With this in mind, what can universities do to overcome the challenges ahead? 

It is very important to go ahead with business as usual. In December last year the EU and UK agreed that the UK can continue to participate in Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ until the end of these programmes under the same terms and conditions as member states. This means that the UK is a full participant to these programmes. This, unfortunately, is not fully known both in the UK and in other European universities. It is crucial that universities make sure all the relevant departments are aware of these arrangements and distribute this news far and wide within their national and international networks.

How has UUK been helping the sector navigate these challenges?

As well as providing the most up-to-date information to the UK sector we’ve spent a lot of time working with our counterpart organisations around Europe. Since the referendum, we have substantially increased our bilateral engagement across the continent. We have organised high-level delegations with Vice-Chancellors to France, Poland, Switzerland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy with more delegations to come. We frequently travel to Brussels as it’s crucial to understand the mood in the EU member states. We relay the information we gather back to the UK Government and use it to inform our own activities. For example, recently we heard that the UK Government’s position on Erasmus was unclear. We subsequently wrote to HE Minister Sam Gyimah addressing this issue and have spoken to the new Director-General for Education and Culture at the European Commission to relay the latest positive statement the Minister had made; the Government want the option to participate.

How can government ensure universities can maximise their contribution to a globally-successful UK?

In addition to negotiating full access to both Erasmus and Horizon Europe, and building an immigration system that allows universities to attract global talent, there are several other things the UK Government needs to do including enhancing support for international research collaboration with both European and non-European partners, with a focus on delivering excellent research. This should include substantial support for inbound and outbound mobility in the form of travel grants, fellowship and workshops. Government should also provide greater support to facilitate outward student mobility. The UK lags behind competitors when it comes to participation in student exchange, while evidence shows that students who go abroad at least once during their degree are 32% less likely to be unemployed and more likely to be in a graduate job. UUK would like to see a continuation of the mutual recognition of professional qualifications, allowing graduates to pursue their careers in an EU member state.

Hear more from Anne-May Janssen at the Higher Education Conference 2018 on October 9. Find out more at heconference.co.uk