UK universities told to put local before global post-Brexit

V-c counters that institutions will ‘inevitably’ plan for overseas campuses after referendum

March 22, 2017
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UK universities have been urged to prioritise their “local responsibilities” above their international links post-Brexit – but one vice-chancellor believes that more overseas campuses will “inevitably” be part of institutions’ plans.

Sunder Katwala, director of British Future – a thinktank that looks at identity, integration and migration – said that universities should rethink their public profile and their lobbying in the wake of the vote to leave the European Union when he spoke at a Higher Education Policy Institute and Higher Education Academy event.

Mr Katwala said that institutions should “broaden [their] messages by geography and really project that the universities are not Oxford, Cambridge and London – but…bring growth, opportunity, exchange to Stoke-on-Trent, to Plymouth, to Sunderland”.

“What I think you should specifically do is continue to project your international links and why they are important, but make that the second point and make the first point about your local engagement, your local responsibilities in the cities, regions, places you’re from,” Mr Katwala told the event, titled “Post-Brexit Britain: what is the ‘new normal’ for universities?”

A key priority should be thinking about “how to extend the benefits of what you bring to the towns, cities and regions you’re in to those people who feel left out from them even though they live five miles down the road” from a university, he argued.

Such a message could “fit into the One Nation argument and maybe is a conversation you could try to have with the prime minister”, added Mr Katwala. He highlighted that, while universities were “popular” with the Scottish National Party, the Liberal Democrats, “exiled” Labour backbenchers and the “liberal, exiled wing of the Conservative Party that’s going off to edit newspapers”, they are “less influential with Conservative opinion generally and especially the dominant trajectory” of the party.

The “best thing to do would be to co-design your advocacy arguments with people who are from the group you are trying to convince”, he argued.

Sally Mapstone, principal and vice-chancellor of the University of St Andrews, argued that the international market had to be as “equally important” as local priorities, highlighting that institutions were “looking at opportunities to broaden our student recruitment base and to be still more strategic in targeting international students”.

Professor Mapstone, a former pro vice-chancellor at the University of Oxford, added: “It’s also clear that new models, or variations on existing models, of international engagement may develop.

“Oxford, we’re told – I was sorry to hear this – is not opening up a campus in Paris…But universities will inevitably be looking harder at whether situating themselves internationally means literally that.”

As reported previously, a survey conducted by the student recruitment and retention solutions company Hobsons found that 69 per cent of prospective students based outside the EU said that they would be very likely or somewhat likely to choose to study at a continental outpost of a UK university.

Shearer West, deputy vice-chancellor of the University of Sheffield, told the event that she had come to the UK as a student and took up citizenship in 1985.

It was “only in the last few months of living here that I have felt like a migrant rather than a citizen”, she said.

Professor West said that she feared “possibly a long, slow decline of the cosmopolitanism in the UK that has been great for universities, but…great for society as well”.

john.morgan@timeshighereducation.com

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