Students from the European Union who are either starting or already attending universities in the UK will continue to receive financial support from the state.
The Student Loans Company has worked to reassure students and applicants after the referendum on the UK’s membership in the EU that their plans or finances have not been jeopardized.
Already, universities have been seeking clarity from the state about the implications of Britain’s departure from the EU for their EU educators and students, international exchanges, and funding from EU research projects. Britain’s academic community vigorously opposed the referendum to leave the Union.
The arrangements for EU students who will begin courses the following year – in autumn 2017 – have yet to be clarified. According to the BBC, the EU sends more students to universities in England, Germany, and France than it does to any other countries. There are currently 125,000 EU students in the UK’s higher education system, equating to 6% of the nation’s total students. Among the non-UK students starting university in Britain last year, however, there were more students from China than from all other EU countries put together: 90,000 students. It is not clear how these large student exchanges will change after the UK’s departure from the European Union.
Indeed, there exists great uncertainty for higher education for a whole host of reasons in the United Kingdom. Dr. Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group of Universities, wants 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.” Piatt also expressed concern over the fate of researchers and research funds. Between 2007 and 2013, the UK received €8.8 billion in EU research funding. The Royal Society has shown that the UK is one of the largest recipients of research money, and research institutions worry that these funds now may be significantly reduced.
Despite the uncertainty, universities are urging calm. As reported by David Clensy of the Bristol Post, the University of Bristol, for example, called for calm following the EU referendum results. “The University of Bristol recognizes that leaving the European Union will create significant uncertainty for all UK universities, particularly around the mobility of staff and students, the funding of research, and our international principles,” a statement from the university read. “We will be working with Universities UK and the Russell Group throughout the transition period to mitigate the various possible impacts of the outcome of the referendum on universities.”
Additionally, according to the Coventry Observer, the Students Union at the University of Warwick has pledged to do all it can to mitigate the effects of the UK’s departure on international staff and students. The Union campaigned vigorously against the referendum and was highly disappointed with the results. It denounced the decision to leave, and it noted that 75% of 18-25 year-olds voted against leaving the European Union. This group, arguably, will be the most impacted by Britain’s decision to leave, which will have ramifications for generations to come.
Echoing these calls for calm, Nick Hillman wrote a compelling editorial for The Guardian titled “Universities have survived wars and dictatorships. They will survive this too.” In the piece, he writes that Europe’s university sector far outdates the UK’s membership in the EU and predates the EU itself by many centuries. “The concept of cross-border European community of scholars is older than the modern European state.”
Furthermore, these institutions and ideals have survived two world wars, fascism, the Cold War, and periods of economic tumult. Compared with these things, he says, the Brexit does not seem all that cataclysmic. Despite being in favor of remaining, Hillman is optimistic that UK universities will continue to thrive domestically and internationally.