Following Britain’s surprise decision to leave the European Union, there has been much uncertainty regarding how Brexit will affect England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Like many other sectors, education is suffering from post-Brexit anxiety, as politicians, academics, educators and students struggle to determine exactly what the impact of Brexit will be.
While it will take years to truly comprehend how Britain’s decision to leave the EU will impact the education sector, there are a few predictions which most observers are beginning to agree on, and these impact teacher recruitment, student enrollment, research funding and education innovation.
Recruiting sufficient numbers of qualified educators to meet the needs of the UK’s school systems is already a challenge that authorities are struggling with and there is reason to believe that this situation will worsen following Britain’s exit from the EU.
A survey by Signal indicated that UK will have difficultly attracting and employing talent from the EU, as the process of hiring EU nationals in post-Brexit Britain is set to become more costly and complex. British universities are also worrying about whether they will be able to retain their current European professors once membership of the European Union is forfeited, a factor which some observers have warned will jeopardise Britain’s intellectual legacy.
It’s not just universities that are concerned about recruitment, there are also fears of a ‘Brexit Brain Drain’ as teachers from the UK are tempted by competitive employment packages from Asia’s booming international education sector. Recruitment agencies, analysts and headteachers have predicted that overseas teaching jobs will become more attractive as the pound weakens against major currencies such as the dollar, euro and yen.
Richard Gaskell, director for international schools at ISC Research explained, “The EU referendum and the fall in the British pound has created an opportunity for international schools globally to maximise on Britain’s economic uncertainty.
“British teachers, who are in extremely high demand by international schools around the world, not only have the incentive of many new and different career opportunities but the chance, when paid in foreign currency, to earn comparatively more.”
Beside attractive employment packages from the international school sector, there may also be a psychological impact which makes more young teachers inclined to travel abroad, an argument made by Diane Jacoutot, managing director of Edvectus, “Many teachers look to teach abroad when they are young and unencumbered, and a majority of under-35s voted to remain, so when people are unhappy with what is going on at home, they often look abroad in order to get a break and to escape the uncertainty.”
Student enrollment at universities, colleges and private schools could also be negatively impacted once Britain leaves the UK as visas become more difficult to obtain, tuition fees rise and as foreign students begin to view the UK as a nation less welcoming to foreigners than had been previously perceived.
Currently there are over 120,000 EU students studying at British Universities, generating over £3 billion for the UK’s economy (and approximately 20,000 jobs). While the financial injection to the economy is certainly beneficial, it is equally important to remember that diversity in the learning environment significantly contributes to improvements in educational outcomes. The current levels of integration, cohesion and diversity at university campuses across the UK provide invaluable experiences for 21st Century students, and it would be disappointing if these were diminished.
Furthermore, it is not just foreign students hoping to study in the UK that will suffer from Brexit, British students are also expected to face additional ‘red tape’ and higher tuition fees when opting to study in Europe.
The excellent Erasmus programme which enables student exchanges across Europe is also at jeopardy for students living in the UK. The programme which is funded by the EU was established in the 1990s and since then over 200,000 students from the UK have been able to study abroad at minimal costs. By living and studying in Europe, these British students have been able to experience other cultures, gain essential life skills and truly understand the importance of cultural integration. Future generations will be greatly disadvantaged if these opportunities are closed off to students from the UK as a result of Brexit.
One potential impact of Brexit which has made headlines is the reduction of EU funded research at British universities. Over the last ten years, the UK received nearly £8 billion in research funding from both the European Commission and the European Research Council. While Russell Group universities received more than half a billion pounds a year in EU investment in 2014-15. The future of this funding, is now in doubt following the Brexit outcome.
The National Union of Students (NUS) has also raised their concerns on this issue, “UK universities receive a disproportionate share of EU research funding. Brexit, therefore, could mean less funding to universities and less opportunities for postgraduate study if we are no longer able to participate in the European research network.”
Innovation is education, particularly technological innovations, may also suffer as a result of Brexit. At the recent TIGA Education Summit, CEO Dr Richard Wilson voiced this concern during the summit’s the opening address, identifying the biggest challenges that the industry faced as being the ongoing skills shortage.
Another concern was financial, as funding from the EU for technological research is likely to be cut back. The TIGA report, ‘Making The UK A World Leader In Games Education’ noted that UK universities currently receive £836m in EU research funding and it is unlikely that funding will continue at these levels after the UK leaves the EU. As James Habgood from Sheffield Hallam University explained, “The loss of EU funding and how that affects skills and training worries me. My concern is that if EU funding disappears and we go back to UK research councils, I feel they tend to favour traditional subjects and traditional universities rather than game-based research.”
Conclusion – is there hope?
Throughout this debate, it doesn’t seem that Brexit offers the education sector any genuine benefits – just concerns, worries and potential challenges. So how concerned should we be?
Well, the uncertainty and ambiguity can also leave us with some degree of hope. By being aware of the challenges that Brexit is creating, those civil servants tasked with negotiating the UK’s exit from the EU can push to maintain policies and agreements – such as the student exchange programme Erasmus and the free movement of qualified educators – to ensure that the education systems in Britain are not left worse off as a result of Brexit.