In a survey conducted by the Liberal Democrat Education Spokesman, John Pugh, 75% of responding vice-chancellors said they believed Brexit threatened the international standing of UK universities.
On subjects such as mobility, funding and staffing, university heads described the “considerable” problems created by Britain’s impending departure from the single market. More than 80% of the forty-eight responding vice-chancellors said they believed it was essential to preserve free movement of people to protect research and collaboration, while the same proportion believed the risk to funding would be “considerable”.
In particular jeopardy are year-abroad courses, which could be endangered by Britain’s withdrawal from the Erasmus programme. The Vice-Chancellor of Bristol University said that modern languages courses, for which “mobility is an essential part” might not recover from Brexit.
Perhaps the biggest concern of universities for life after Article 50 is a question of funding. The head of the University of Cumbria replied to the Lib Dems’ survey with the worry that it was “difficult to see the UK government being able to provide a 100% uplift”, in place of lost EU funding.
Both the University of Warwick and Royal Holloway stated that they would lose Marie Curie research fellowship programme funding, with Warwick saying that American and Australian colleagues “no longer want to collaborate with the UK and are approaching France, Germany and Holland”.
Meanwhile, Oxford’s own Louise Richardson again expressed concerns following Brexit in an interview in Paris. She noted that Iif EU students have to pay international fees, “we could reasonably anticipate that the numbers would decline… That would be a loss for them and a loss for us.” Richardson also fears that academics whose research is funded by the ERC are vulnerable to being “poached” by other universities.
Oxford Brookes’ Chancellor, Alistair Fitt, remarked that despite the government’s protestations, the Brexit vote can be interpreted as “we are not open for business”.
A third of vice-chancellors said legislation on university research should be delayed, to wait for clarity over losses of EU funding, though nearly 40% said they believed the bill should go ahead anyway.
Last year, EU contributions made up 12% of Oxford University’s budget. Speaking to Cherwell in July, the University Research Services European Team said: “while we have a strong stream of competitively-won awards from many other sources, including industry, charities and the UK Government, we cannot overlook or underestimate the importance of access to ERC grants”.
John Pugh concluded, “While Theresa May, Boris Johnson and David Davis endlessly repeat ‘Brexit means Brexit’, this research confirms that our most important academic institutions are seeing their international reputation thrown into jeopardy”.