How Brexit will change governance in UK higher education

The potential threat is huge, says Ed Rees, Head of Education and Third Sector, eShare

One of the many great unknowns about Brexit is the impact that it might have on UK higher education. Perhaps this has been a little lost amidst concerns about trade, banking, freedom of movement and immigration, but the potential threat of Brexit is huge.

Specific threats to higher education include: the loss of research funding from EU sources – it has been estimated that UK universities get around 16 per cent of their research income from the EU; whether UK students can study abroad; the ability to hire academic staff from the EU; and also universities’ ability to attract students from other EU countries, which provides vast revenue for higher education in the UK.

While the number of EU students applying to study in the UK in 2018 rose by 3.2% (after a fall of 7% in 2017), commentators have felt that this rise can be attributed to 2018 being the final academic year before Brexit begins. The UK is an attractive place to study, and people are applying to do so before the process is dogged by red tape, restrictions and general Brexit uncertainty.

What can UK universities do to address this, and how might that affect governance in UK higher education?

Lectures in the Istanbul campus?

The revenue generated by foreign students for UK higher education establishments is hugely significant. In 2014 / 15 this accounted for more than 14% of total university income so, unsurprisingly, UK universities do not want to lose this income and are taking steps to address it.

It is not uncommon already for UK universities to have foreign campuses and this is a trend that looks set to grow in the wake of Brexit. By setting up campuses in different locations around the world, universities ensure that candidates still receive their teaching and degree from the parent university and fee revenue is still generated. But, as it is situated in another country entirely, it gets around any Brexit-based restrictions on the number of students.

This will change how higher establishments are governed, however, as governance requirements will change from country to country. This means that the most likely solution would be to establish separate legal entities in each country where a campus is located.


Ed Rees



Entity management and higher education

Entity management is common practice in the business world. Globalisation has meant trading in other parts of the world is easier than ever, and the benefits of expanding internationally far outweigh the costs involved in doing so.

But as organisations expand they set up subsidiaries, meaning that the largest firms can sometimes operate hundreds of entitles around the world. This can lead to a number of governance issues, which would apply to universities just as much as it would a plc. How can the right governance be extended across entities, effectively and consistently, when what’s required by regulatory bodies in one country can vary hugely from what is required in another?

How can university boards be expected to know what is going on in each entity at any given time, and how can they ensure the culture and governance of the main university is cascaded to entities?

The answer lies in adopting a combination of technologies already much in demand in the private sector – entity management platforms and online board portals.

The tools of the trade for modern HE governance

Entity management platforms are essentially a system of storage, cycles and notifications. They allow those that need access to information to have it, and block those that don’t. Whether a university trustee, legal team, compliance or finance department, each will on occasion need entity information – when were a university’s entities formed, when does that entity’s country require financial information or reporting? Better that the information can be extracted in real-time. At other times it may also have been requested by an auditor or regulator.

An effective entity management platform allows a university’s governance and compliance teams to remain on top of each entity, from information on its trustees to any upcoming regulatory requirements. It’s also a technology that often works hand-in-hand with another technology, an online board portal.

Online board portals help improve overall governance by demonstrating transparency in decision-making. By replacing paper records at senior meetings, which are static and inaccessible documents, it means it is much clearer which trustee said what in a meeting and how decisions were reached.

Connecting an online board portal with an entity management platform allows boards and committees to know exactly what is going on at another campus at any time. All meeting content can be accessed from the head office, from agendas to action reports, and via the use of apps all users can check information on their device in real-time.

As Brexit looms large and UK universities seek to retain important income from foreign students, expansion overseas is a powerful way to address this and could usher in a new era in how universities are structured. But managing governance in new entities can be a challenge, and if UK higher education does not wish to fall foul of governance and compliance requirements – potentially facing heavy fines – then the right tools are essential.