While we are all consumed with the high drama of Brexit parliamentary debates, it’s perhaps easy to forget the everyday impacts of Brexit on academic life.
But impacts there are, and adverse impacts at that. This was brought home to me last week when two seemingly disparate events coincided to emphasise the negative effects of Brexit, both for UK universities and for the fight against online abuse and sexual violence.
It started when I gave evidence before Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee hearing into women’s experiences of sexual harassment. I drew to the committee’s attention good practice in Denmark, where the government has recently adopted a comprehensive strategy to combat digital sexual abuse. When considering options for reform, I shared my knowledge of the laws in other European countries where sexual harassment is criminalised.
I was able to contribute this evidence because a few months ago, I participated in a European Union-funded workshop on sexual harassment and online abuse, part of the EU’s Mutual Learning Programme in Gender Equality. Everyone present benefited from sharing best practice, as well as the exchange of ideas so necessary to challenge this complex cross-border phenomenon.
At the time, I lamented Brexit, knowing that there would be fewer such valuable opportunities in the future.
But the adverse impact came sooner than I’d imagined. Travelling home from Parliament, an email arrived from a European colleague. While an EU funding bid on gender and the digital world, of which I was part, had been successful, the UK had not been chosen as one of the focus countries. I was not needed on this research project.
I don’t blame the funders – why would you grant funds to involve a country that had turned its back on the EU?
These experiences brought home to me the everyday adverse impacts of Brexit. Many reading this will know of colleagues whose participation in European research projects is no longer sought or desired. Reassurances are being given about funding. But I worry about what the reality will be like on the ground, particularly for early career researchers who need to build networks and collaborations.
But importantly, this is not just an issue about funding for our universities. It is also about the quality of our research and our impact on the external world. If we are to make a difference to the lives of women experiencing sexual and domestic violence or online abuse, we need to work with our European neighbours, learning from each other and cooperating across borders.
This is best accomplished through established opportunities within the EU. Not only will we lose these opportunities, but the risk is that we will also lose our current standards of rights and provisions. Because of such risks, a lesser known amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill has been put forward by Jess Phillips MP seeking reassurance on protecting vital women’s services and cross-border cooperation on violence against women post-Brexit.
I hope that my fears are not realised. But even if the future is more positive, such an outcome will only have come at great expense: of time, energy and money. Such resources would have been better directed in the first place at ending violence against women through quality research collaborations that shape our laws and policies for the better.
Clare McGlynn is a professor of law at Durham University.