BLOG – Brexit: What does it mean for Welsh universities?

Mairwen Harris, Universities Wales

The UK’s withdrawal from the European Union could mean comprehensive changes and challenges for the Welsh higher education sector.

In the short-term, much of the impact of Brexit will depend on whether there is a deal or not.

If we reach a deal …

Universities will continue their relationship with the European Union until the end of the transition period, 31 December 2020. In this scenario:

• Erasmus+ placements will continue, so UK students will be eligible for funded mobility placements in Europe and we will continue to host EU students on Erasmus+ placements at UK universities;

• EU students will still be eligible for home fee status and for financial support as per existing rules;

• Universities will be able to recruit new EU staff with no visa restrictions as they do at the moment;

• Universities would be able to continue to bid into the EU research framework programme (Horizon 2020) and access EU structural funds.

The transition period would be spent working out how universities could continue in some of the EU programmes as a non-EU member state. At the end of the transition period there would be new immigration laws in place that would determine how new EU students and new EU staff would be treated.

Should the UK reach a deal, this would still leave universities facing significant uncertainty. Leaving the EU will create immediate issues for staff, students, funding and participation in European networks, however, most within the sector would agree that this option is significantly preferable to leaving without a deal.

If there is no deal and the UK leaves the EU at 11pm on 29 March 2019 there is a considerable amount of uncertainty for the university sector, just as for the country as a whole.

In the event of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit

• Students currently out on Erasmus+ placements would still be funded but there would be no guarantee of funding for those students that had applied for placement during the 2019/20 academic year. The UK government has not negotiated with the Commission for universities to continue to be part of the Erasmus+ programme in the event of no-deal and has no plan to replicate the scheme.

Universities UK have launched a campaign #SupportStudyAbroad promoting the benefits of studying abroad which include better job prospects and better degree outcome.

Universities Wales is liaising with Welsh Government to see if the mobility costs could be funded, if not, it could mean that over 750 students in Wales miss out on funded mobility opportunities.

• For those EU students and staff who are in the UK before exit day, their rights to live and work will be protected by the EU Settlement Scheme.

• Student and staff mobility will be limited – the Home Secretary has set out provisions for EU citizens coming to the UK after EU exit in the event of a no-deal. For a transitional period only, EU citizens will still be able to come to the UK for visits, work or study and they will be able to enter the UK as they do now. However, to stay longer than three months they will need to apply for permission via the European Temporary Leave to Remain scheme, which, if granted, is valid for a further three years. This will undoubtedly deter both EU staff and students for coming to the UK.

• EU student funding – Welsh Government has confirmed that EU students starting their course in 2019/20 will continue to be able to access student loans and only pay home tuition fees – in Wales no higher than £9,000. However, students recruited to start in September 2019 who wish to stay longer than three months will need to apply for permission via the European Temporary Leave to Remain scheme, which, if granted, is valid for a further three years. This will be especially problematic for students wishing to study for degrees longer than three years.

• Although the UK Government has committed to underwriting research funding through Horizon 2020, the EU’s research programme, this guarantee does not cover European Research Council or Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions. Universities UK estimate that UK researchers could lose out to up to €1.3 billion if access to these strands of funding was not replaced, alongside the likelihood that world-leading academics would relocate to countries where access to such funding is not at risk.

• The structural funding that Wales benefits from is guaranteed by the same underwrite which means that new projects in Wales will continue to be signed off by the Welsh European Funding Office until the programme closure at the end of 2020.

With the UK set to leave the European Union on the 29 March, and no deal being the default option if a withdrawal agreement is not in place, there remains a great deal of uncertainty over what the shape and nature of the challenges posed by Brexit for universities. At Universities Wales we are working with our member universities and colleagues at Universities UK to ensure that, as far as possible, we are prepared for the eventualities of Brexit. Through our Global Wales work, we are also looking longer-term at how, in a post-Brexit Wales, we can ensure Wales continues to play a role on the world stage.