No Brexit please, we’re European

Angus Laing, Dean at LUMS, discusses how an out vote might impact UK business schools both locally and globally

Like many of the top UK business schools, Lancaster University Management School, (LUMS), recruits internationally for top talent. Currently we’re in discussions with a leading academic who currently holds a chair in Australia. The citizen of an EU country, this particular academic contacted me upon the announcement of the referendum. ‘If I come to Lancaster would the outcome of the referendum affect my ability to return to Europe?’ the email read. 

‘My ability to return to Europe’, he said. Not the UK, but Europe. Because whether we like it or not the UK is considered Europe by the rest of the world. So what does this mean for UK business schools?

Fundamentally, the challenges facing business schools and universities are the same – concerns over access to European funding and the potential loss of significant numbers of EU students. Yet these concerns manifest very specifically at business school level and, I fear, will have far reaching implications for the UK more widely if Brexit should be the outcome in June.

As Lancaster is based in the north-west, we are heavily invested in the idea of the Northern Powerhouse, and Chancellor Osborne’s latest budget indicates he is keen to push this beyond a notion into a reality. Leaving the EU has the potential to seriously compromise this plan. Business schools in the north of England are the lynch pin of SME development, of regional business support. Our research supports the development of local SMEs through growth accelerators, executive development programmes and consultancy services. Recent cuts at BIS mean that delivering this support is heavily reliant on European Regional Development Funding (ERDF) to ensure that SMEs can afford to access such provision. Severing ties with the EU will effectively close off this funding stream and will, in my opinion, severely compromise ambitions to rebalance the economy away from the south-east.

Speak to academics in the Americas, Australasia or Asia and they view the UK as part of Europe

Business Schools do not of course, just serve businesses. Their main business, if you like, is educating the entrepreneurs and leaders of tomorrow. Stifling the present free flow of students in Europe is one of the greatest risks posed by a Brexit. Not only do our children in the UK have the opportunity of studying abroad through fantastic programmes such as Erasmus, but our undergraduate programmes here in the UK benefit from a diverse mix of young people from across Europe. Global business depends on inter-cultural awareness and the richness of experience offered by programmes with diversity in the cohort is something that cannot be taught, it must be ‘lived’. Whilst European students will still undoubtedly come to UK universities, the process will be more difficult under Brexit and as such many may be put off and business schools will need to work harder to attract the ‘best of the best’ – we need only look at the massive PR effort UUK has had to undertake to ensure Indian students still consider us an option to understand the enormity of the challenge a Brexit would present.

Lastly, and by no means least, UK business schools are at the cutting edge of the European management education tradition and have pioneered much of the work to position this tradition on the global stage through bodies such as the European Foundation for Management Development. Finally we are seeing the fruition of our labours in that the American MBA has an increasingly internationally recognised European competitor in our Masters in Management programmes – an achievement that is cemented in partnerships such as the one LUMS recently announced with leading French and German business schools EMLYON and Ludwig Maximillian Universitat (LMU) to deliver a triple master’s degree in management – known as the European Masters in Management.

And herein lies the rub, whether we like it or not, we have become inherently European and are viewed as such by the rest of the world. Speak to academics in the Americas, Australasia or Asia and they view the UK as part of Europe. They welcome the ease of movement, they admire the collaboration and they envy our achievements. 

Our inherent Europeanism is older than the EU –  in education terms it reaches as far back, if not further, as the tradition of the Grand Tour in the Renaissance. Both looking backwards and looking forwards – education is better in Europe than out.

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