The UK government will now need to give formal notice of withdrawal, which will trigger a period of negotiation between the UK and the EU on the precise terms and practical arrangements of the UK’s exit. This is likely to take at least two years and the precise implications for the sector will become clearer as these negotiations progress. However, it is worth noting that these negotiations will be entirely separate from negotiations regarding the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
The decision could have wide-ranging impacts for the higher education sector, including:
- The ability of institutions to continue attracting and retaining staff and students. Recent figures suggest around 14% of academic staff and 5% of students at UK universities are from EU countries.
- Access to EU funding for research and development and participation in EU research programmes.
- International collaborations and participation in schemes such as Erasmus+.
- Tuition fees and access to student finance.
Focus will now turn to the negotiations as we enter into the transitional period and many in the sector have already pledged to ensure that the needs of universities are reflected in future policy.
Dame Julia Goodfellow, President of Universities UK, has made clear that ‘Our first priority will be to convince the UK government to take steps to ensure that staff and students from EU countries can continue to work and study at British universities in the long term and to promote the UK as a welcoming destination for the brightest and best minds’.
Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group has said it will be ‘seeking assurances from the Government that staff and students currently working and studying at our universities can continue to do so after the UK negotiates leaving the EU’.
Whilst the legal consequences for the sector are currently uncertain, it is inevitable that Brexit will have an impact on immigration, employment, discrimination and public procurement in universities. As these developments start to take shape, institutions should be ready to adapt to tackle the opportunities and challenges that Brexit presents.
Veale Wasbrough Vizards’ specialist higher education team will be keeping a close eye on the negotiations and are on hand to discuss and advise on the practical implications that they will have for the sector. For more information please contact Bettina Rigg or Jane Byford.