Britain’s decision to vote to leave the European Union is one of the biggest we have taken in decades. Given that universities have played an important part in the debate, it is understandable that some in the sector may worry about the consequences.
I would like to reassure them that on funding, immigration and cooperation there are no immediate concerns, and, in the medium term, I believe leaving the EU can create brighter opportunities for the UK’s universities.
The very method and speed of Britain’s future exit has been misreported. Britain does not have to immediately enact article 50 and start a clock ticking on a two year withdrawal.
There will instead be a negotiation, which will likely not begin until we have a new prime minister in October. Even campaigners on the Remain side have been quoted in the past as saying “nothing will change for five years” in the event of a British exit, and I believe that is not far off the mark.
Universities will continue to receive funding from EU sources and cooperate in EU research programmes throughout this negotiation period. Even once the renegotiation is complete, there will be options either to remain in EU science programmes on similar terms to now (as non-EU countries ranging from Israel to Tunisia do) or to allocate more UK money to science (as Vote Leave consistently recommended a post-Brexit government do) to make up any shortfall.
Either way, it seems unlikely that universities will be bereft of funding, and a combination of these two options could see them better off.
The desire of parts of the media and the Remain campaign to build a straw man anti-immigrant Brexit opposition has left academics and students, especially those from overseas, worried about the consequence of a Leave vote. They need not worry.
The prime minister has already made clear that no one living here will have any change to their circumstances or rights in the short term, and it seems likely that the Vienna convention will shape any longer-term approach to the rights of existing migrants.
In terms of future immigration, leave politicians have consistently argued that Brexit will offer new opportunities to non-EU skilled migrants (like academics and students) to come to Britain, given the extra political room created by controlling unskilled immigration from the EU. There may therefore be a medium-term bonus in terms of greater ease in attracting non-EU staff and students.
If funding and immigration offer short-term continuity and long-term opportunity, then cooperation offers immediate chances for universities. Institutions, academics and students within the EU and outside have never been keener to hear from British universities looking to build bridges not walls.
These approaches can be made clutching examples from Vote Leave’s campaign of a positive attitude towards future funding, student and academic migration, and the opportunity to avoid EU regulation when working with non-EU partners.
These new partnerships, and I hope in time more pro-higher education funding and immigration policies, mean that while universities may have left the EU, they are about to join a very exciting world.
Jamie Martin is an independent education consultant and was a special adviser to Michael Gove when he was secretary of state for education.