In this update we are sharing our submission and our support for the view of UUK that the priorities must be to encourage students to choose to study in the UK.

1. The likely impact of the UK exiting the EU on EU students studying in England

Short-term impact

A. Recruitment market

Currently the University of Greenwich has 2,500 EU students on campus in the UK, 50% recruited from the EU and 50% from the UK. We project the number of EU recruited students to fall by 60-80% by 2019. There has been a drop in the value of the British pound against other currencies which makes UK study more affordable for many non-UK EU students.  Brexit will not happen for at least another 2 years so currently there is speculation of a sense of urgency among EU students to gain admission to UK degree programmes ahead of Brexit. Although some universities are already reducing EU recruitment activity, the University of Greenwich has large numbers of students originating from certain parts of the EU who, in the short term, will be attracted by affordable fees and a London study destination. As of 4 November 2016, total EU applications at the University of Greenwich are down almost 10% on the same time last year. This is in line with reported sector trends in the UK.1

Long-term impact

A. Potential recruitment decline

Currently there is considerable uncertainty about the future compounded by a lack of clarity on the UK Government's position on facilitating European students to study in the UK. The University of Greenwich recruits a significant proportion of its student population from the EU, in particular from Romania, Italy and Bulgaria. At the same time the number of degree programmes offered across the EU is also growing, thus UK universities have more competition. It is likely there will be a reduction in the numbers of students from across Europe who choose to come to the UK for higher education, and this will leave the University of Greenwich particularly exposed. EU students are likely to turn to more favourable 'welcoming' destinations such as Germany and the Netherlands where the cost of study is considerably lower, resulting in a huge reduction in student applications/enrolments once the tuition fee loans cease to be available. The global higher education market is increasingly competitive, and exiting the EU, combined with an increasingly prohibitive UKVI visa regime, is likely to impact on revenue and the diversity of the student body at the University of Greenwich.

B. Increased competition

The Scottish Government have recently announced post-Brexit that non-English EU students will not have to pay tuition fees, thus it is imperative the UK government works closely with the devolved administrations in the UK to ensure that English universities remain attractive for students.2Furthermore, the Republic of Ireland, an English speaking country with an established education system, may benefit and the country has launched an ambitious new five year international growth strategy since the EU referendum in the UK.3 English universities, supported by the UK Government, may consider offering scholarships as a means of maintaining non-UK EU student recruitment to England.

C. Change of market focus
In recent years the University of Greenwich has recruited more non-UK students from the EU – in 2013/14 the university had 1974 new and continuing EU students, and in 2015/16 there were 2,709 new and continuing EU students. The university has invested in developing an agent network and staff with a focus on EU recruitment. It is likely the target markets for student recruitment will change as a result of a drop in non-UK EU students.
D. England's USP
The University of Greenwich benefits from historic campuses in the south East of England and in London. Universities will need to ensure that London remains a destination of choice for non-UK EU students.

2. What protections should be in place for existing EU students and staff?

A. Staff

Non-UK Europeans with rights to work and leave to remain in Britain should continue. The government should provide clear and timely guidance for non-UK EU university staff on their options, and this should be supported across the sector by universities. The University of Greenwich currently has approximately 10% EU non-UK staff and we value the diversity of our academic and professional services staff.

Academic and professional services staff who are EU nationals could start to vote with their feet, and also, in the case of academic staff, be courted and enticed by universities in EU member states to move there and continue to have the benefits of easily accessing EU funding streams and networks. Exceptional researchers are integral to ensuring a high-quality student experience. A taught experience delivered by experts in their fields are essential for maintaining the quality of higher education curriculum.

Furthermore, for any EU researchers who hold European Research Council (ERC) grants, which are portable, they could also be enticed to move to EU-based universities, taking the funding with them. The UK has been a net beneficiary of ERC funding in the past 5 years, with 50% of the funding awarded to EU nationals working in UK universities.

B. Students

Existing students should be welcomed by government and institutions and given continued assurance regarding their status within the UK and tuition fees payable. 'It has also been confirmed in separate statements from across all UK nations (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) that current university students from the EU and those applying to courses starting in 2017/18 will not see any changes to their loan eligibility or fee status.'4 Many students who are enrolled on HEI courses throughout the UK may have hoped to work in the UK after their studies and this future is now uncertain. The government has given assurances for 2017/18, and the sector would welcome assurances from the UK Government regarding students coming to the UK from 2018/19 onwards.

3. The future of the Erasmus+ programme following the withdrawal of the UK from the EU

A. Uncertainty

The future of the Erasmus+ programme is, at present, uncertain.  We know that Erasmus+ will continue for the 2016-17 academic year, but the government has not provided any specific assurances for 2017-18 or beyond.  We also know that the UK will continue to be a part of the Erasmus+ programme at least until the UK is no longer a member of the EU.  The Prime Minister recently confirmed that the UK government will trigger Article 50 by the end of March 2017.  Assuming that the withdrawal process takes the full two years envisioned by Article 50, then we can assume that the UK will cease to be a member of the EU by, at the latest, the end of March 2019 (although it could be earlier than this, if an agreement is reached before the end of the two-year period).  It is therefore likely, although not guaranteed, that the UK's participation in Erasmus+ will continue at least for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 academic years.  It would be helpful if the UK government could provide some clarity on this point, to enable HEIs to better plan their Erasmus / study abroad provision over the next few years.

B. European student and staff mobility can continue

It should be remembered that the UK does not necessarily need to be a member of the EU in order to participate in the Erasmus+ programme.  A number of non-EU countries (including Norway, Turkey, Macedonia, Iceland and Liechtenstein) currently participate in Erasmus+.  However, it is likely that the UK's continued participation in Erasmus+ following withdrawal from the EU will depend on the UK government's willingness to abide by the EU's terms and conditions.  These are likely to relate to: a) an ongoing financial contribution to the costs of the programme; and b) a willingness to allow some level of freedom of movement.  At present, it is difficult to envisage the UK government being willing to make concessions on these points.  The UK government's current desire to reduce numbers of international students more widely suggests that it is unlikely to prioritise student mobility when it comes to the Brexit negotiations, which is of concern to the sector.

C. Swiss model

If the UK is excluded from the Erasmus+ programme, it would in theory be possible for the UK government to continue with a European student mobility programme along similar lines.  This would emulated the Swiss model developed in 2014 following its exclusion form the Erasmus+ programme. However, the Swiss government has shown a willingness to fund the exchange programme, in effect replacing the Erasmus+ funding that it lost.  At the moment, it is difficult to foresee the UK government following a similar approach. 

D. Impact on access to global mobility

Universities who wish to maintain a European exchange programme would therefore either need to find alternative sources of funding, or send students abroad without the benefit of any financial support.  This is likely to act as a barrier to students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and is likely to lead to a significant reduction in the number of students who choose to study or work abroad as part of their degree. The University of Greenwich in particular would have significant numbers of students who would face financial challenges if funding were not provided for mobility.

The UK Government needs to, first, provide a clear schedule for the continuation of the Erasmus+ programme.  At present, it is unclear what the position is after the 2016-17 academic year.  Further clarity is needed, as students need to consider making applications now if they wish to undertake an Erasmus placement in 2017-18.

Secondly, the UK government should commit to making funding available for student mobility programmes in the event that the UK's participation in Erasmus+ comes to an end.  The advantages of studying abroad (e.g. enhanced employability) are well documented, and the government should invest in this.  Failure to do so will most likely lead to a significant reduction in the number of students who are willing to study or work abroad.

4. Risks and opportunities for UK students

Key risks

A. Research-Informed teaching

Continued access to European research funding, including Horizon2020 and European Structural Investment funds, is essential for maintaining high quality research-informed teaching (RIT). As a cornerstone of the Government's proposed Teaching Excellence Framework, RIT is fundamental to a curriculum which develops the key problem and project-based skills vital in a twenty-first century professional working environment. Further to opportunities which will enhance graduate employability, employers are more likely to engage with universities who embed RIT within their curricula, particularly where high quality research demonstrates direct applicability in addressing business needs and drives innovation in practice.

B. Single Market and freedom of movement

The impact on freedom of movement, particularly in relation to Erasmus+, is discussed in more detail above. Whilst freedom of movement restrictions will undoubtedly have a pedagogical impact on students, it could materially damage the employment prospects and choices of those graduates seeking internships and employment in European countries. This will be particularly the case where administrative costs for visas and work permits could prejudice those applications from UK students, whilst UK students will face increased competition from European applicants with enhanced foreign language capabilities. Curbs on freedom of movement, as well as restricted access to European funding, will also negatively impact on UK postgraduate research students. The vast majority of European-funded research provides PhD studentships, providing students with valuable expertise in contributing to complex and multinational research projects. Freedom of movement restrictions will provide barriers to, and incur additional costs for, postgraduate research students who require access to research facilities in Europe. This is of particular concern for the sciences, where the UK has invested in shared research and scientific facilities or infrastructure within Europe.

C. Single Market and goods and services tariffs

The financial ramifications of losing access to the single market in terms of the free movement of goods will also have direct and indirect consequences for UK students. UK universities and businesses will inevitably incur additional costs through imposed tariffs on goods and services if an agreement on the Single Market does not materialize. These costs will have an impact on the costs of delivering essential university services, and may impact on the quality of the student experience. The costs associated with rising inflation, including increased food and fuel prices and the stagnation of wages, are significantly more detrimental to those students from disadvantaged backgrounds and mature students who support families whilst studying.

D. Social mobility

Universities have made significant strides in improving the prospects of students from socio-economically deprived backgrounds, and it is essential that this progress is not reversed. The University of Greenwich has a proud record of widening participation, with 44% of the University's student body drawn from low-income backgrounds. However, a number of factors will impact on social mobility, in particular: increased living costs as a result of inflation and potentially the introduction of trade tariffs which will drive up the cost of staple products and services; the loss of European structural funds which provide investment in the UK's poorest communities – with more students from low income families attending universities in the UK than ever before, there is a risk that the withdrawal of key structural funds designed to promote social mobility and improve wellbeing amongst the poorest in the country will reverse this momentum.

Key opportunities

A. Student loan system

Under current arrangements, EU students are entitled to receive access to the student loan system and are charged equivalent fees to UK-domiciled students. Should access to the loan system be revoked, this budget could be reallocated to support student mobility and widening participation, as suggested by the Director of HEPI in July 2016.5

B. Reduction in accommodation costs

Accommodation costs for students have risen by a quarter in the last seven years, with increased pressure on the student rental market.6 A reduction in the number of EU and International students studying in the UK may make the student rental market more competitive, but this is likely to be offset by the increase in basic living costs.

C. Refocussed international programmes

Withdrawing from the Erasmus+ programme will not necessarily result in the cessation of UK universities' relationships with European institutions. Exchange programmes could still be maintained with individual bilateral agreements made between partner institutions. There is also scope, however, for universities to innovate in the ways in which students encounter a global curriculum.

5. How changes to freedom of movement rules may affect students and academics in English  higher education institutions

Students

Changes to freedom of movement is likely to impact students in UK HEIs in that they may in future need to apply for visas for UK study, and UK students seeking to participate in mobility periods may also be subject to visa requirements of host countries in the EU. This may pose a disincentive to pursuing study in England and also in turn make studying overseasstudy or work more difficult for English students and graduates.Furthermore, students wishing to pursue careers working overseas may be restricted.

Academics

Academics at English HEIs may choose to work elsewhere in the EU if they are non- UK EU citizens. The opportunity to develop links in Europe, receive funding form Europe in future is attractive for academics, and the uncertainty and future to develop a global career may appear to be limited in the UK after the UK exits the EU.

6. How to ensure UK universities remain competitive after the withdrawal of the UK from the EU

A. Joined-up education and industrial strategies

The announcement by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy of the government's plans to develop an Industrial Strategy which is sustainable and long-term, and which can offer stability, is to be welcomed. In developing the Strategy, it is essential that there is consonance between educational and industrial strategies which should ensure the following:

  • A recognition of the centrality of universities in educating a generation of students who can meet the industrial and technological challenges of the future. Universities are ideally placed to develop and nurture international partnerships. The sector's world-class research capacity can support innovation in business and industry, with a strong record of collaboration between industry and universities which can promote further international investment in the UK economy. In 2015, there were 4100 new start-ups founded by UK graduate entrepreneurs, and any future Industrial Strategy should promote and support the initiatives universities have set in place to encourage entrepreneurialism amongst UK graduates;
  • Continued support and cooperation with the Higher Education sector to meet the UK Government's target of increasing educational exports to £30 billion by 2020, recognizing the enormous investment EU and international students make in local economies around the country, the 137,000 jobs which exist as a result of this buoyant industry, and the continued investment and contribution to the growth of the economy made by EU graduates who enter the UK workforce;
  • A commitment to increased public spending in research and development to maintain the UK's position as having the most world-class universities second only to the US. Furthermore, a cooperative industrial and higher education strategy should complement and materially support the emphasis on research-informed teaching, which is the cornerstone of the Teaching Excellence Framework, by promoting greater collaboration between industry and universities;
  • A renewed commitment to social mobility and widening participation, with an industrial strategy that will work alongside Universities in building on the progress already made to ensure all young people have access to higher education and apprenticeships. Currently, the European Regional Development Fund, via Local Enterprise Partnerships, work to redress regional disparities in areas such as research and development and supports the growth of local economies. Moreover, the European Social Fund is a vital source of funding support for young people, particularly in the current funding programme, which focuses on youth unemployment, promotes social inclusion and the elimination of child poverty, and sets crucial targets for young people to complete secondary education, promoting aspirations for further or higher education. It is essential that these initiatives do not stall as a result of the cessation of access to these essential social funding streams.

B. Increased public investment in research and development

As a net beneficiary of European research funding, it is essential that the government continue to the ring-fence the contribution the UK makes to the EU's research and framework programmes, particularly if negotiations for the UK's continued participation in schemes such as Horizon 2020 are unsuccessful.

C. Government-back campaign to promote the UK's world-class higher education sector across the globe

The UK Higher Education system is one of the most regulated in the world, with a quality assurance process which ensures students receive high quality teaching across the sector, and which has endowed students with essential consumer rights. Together with a highly sophisticated research funding system, the UK currently positions itself well as an attractive destination for scholars and students, with UK degrees holding significant value. However, as Louise Richardson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, recently argued, "Any university is only as good as the academics it can attract".7It is vital that universities and the government cooperate to make the UK an attractive and competitive destination for bright EU and international students, as well as the best researchers and academic staff.

D. Immigration policy reforms

As noted above, attracting the best talent in terms of academic staff and EU students is essential in ensuring the current quality of the sector is maintained. At the University of Greenwich, EU students comprise 7% of the student population. 43% of those EU students achieve First Class Degrees, and 47%  achieve Upper Second Class (2:1) degrees, outperforming UK domiciled students, who achieve 25% and 41% respectively. The results of the DLHE survey reveal that 70% of EU students graduating with a first degree go on to highly successful graduate careers in both the public, private and charity sectors, ranging from local government, NHS, and teaching professions, to banking, finance, and the hospitality sectors. It is vital that any immigration policy reforms take into account the fundamental requirement for academics and highly skilled researchers to be able to hold posts at UK institutions without burdensome and costly immigration bureaucracy. Moreover, an immigration policy which can guarantee access to the graduate labour market for EU students will ensure businesses and the public sector have access to a range of top talent, supporting economic growth.

E. Developing and cultivating new links with European universities and businesses, and nurturing existing ones. 

There are significant opportunities to aggressively recruit the best students from Europe and the best academics, but procedures must be in place which will allow this to be a seamless and joined-up process. This includes a commitment to free movement of academic staff and visa-free travel for both EU and UK students, which will not entail universities and students alike incurring administrative costs associated with immigration rules.

F. Transnational Education (TNE)

The University of Greenwich offers large scale TNE provision across the globe and maintaining a strong reputation is essential. TNE growth could include further franchise or quality assurance arrangements with partners overseas, branch campuses, online and blended learning. Universities UK International and the British Council should ensure that partnership opportunities are explored so that UK HEIs can maintain their global reach and make an impact outside the UK. Any expansion of TNE should be sustainable and part of a long term strategy rather than a knee jerk reaction to exiting the EU.  

It is important to recognise that many UK HEIs are currently looking for opportunities to expand in the TNE market in Europe, to mitigate a decline in the number of EU students studying on campus.  It's also been reported that some are considering opening European campuses. An important driver here could be the need to retain research collaborations and access to EU research funding. Opening a European campus is not a high priority for the University of Greenwich at this time though competition from others in the sector may impact the university. In 2015/16 the University of Greenwich had almost 700 students completing TNE programmes in the EU, with the majority of students in Greece.

7.  What the Government's priorities should be during negotiations for the UK to exit the EU with regard to students and staff at higher education institutions

A. Student fee and loan agreements

Agreements need to be made with respect to the fees EU students, who are currently charged home fees, will in future be required to pay, including their access to the UK student loan system.

B. Immigration status of staff and students

Negotiations should focus on a reciprocal arrangement for free movement of highly skilled researchers and academic staff between the UK and EU countries, with clarification on long-term residency. Similar arrangements should be made to permit UK students to study in the EU and for EU students to study in the UK without burdensome and expensive visa administrative processes. The Government should aim to ensure that Europeans are not excluded from applying for roles advertised in England and should provide reassurance that rights to remain and work in Britain will be preserved.  This will ensure that Britain does not miss out on employing staff with the best skill sets.

C. Graduate work permits

As noted above, many students who originate from the EU enter into highly skilled graduate employment. Key sectors including banking, finance, the NHS, and the civil service draw heavily on this highly skilled graduate workforce. EU graduate students should have continued access to the UK graduate job market in essential sectors.

D. Continued access to European research and structural funds

The Government should ensure continued access to and investment in European research schemes, including Horizon 2020, as an associated country. This is essential to avoid a brain drain of highly reputable academics who could turn to European institutions where access to this funding is more readily available. Furthermore, for any EU researchers who hold European Research Council (ERC) grants, which are portable, they could also be enticed to move to EU-based universities, taking the funding with them. This is a significant risk for the UK as a whole, since we have been by far the biggest recipient of ERC funding in the past 5 years, and about 50% of the funding is awarded to EU nationals working in UK universities.

E. Continued access to Erasmus+ programmes

Ideally, the government should seek to ensure that the UK can continue to participate in the Erasmus+ programme following the UK's withdrawal from the EU. In default of this, the government should ensure that the UK remains an Erasmus+ programme country until the end of the 2019-20 academic year, thus enabling UK HEIs to work to the end of the period of their existing Erasmus Charters and honour any commitments under Inter-Institutional Agreements, which may have been entered into for the same period.  Although this would involve a financial commitment from the UK to the EU, it should be noted that the UK government has made similar commitments to fund other European programmes such as Horizon 2020, up to the end date of the project.

8. What steps the Government should take to mitigate any possible risks and take advantage of any opportunities

  1. Maintaining a highly skilled graduate workforce
  2. Attracting and retaining the best talent
  3. Ring-fencing of research funds
  4. An international education growth strategy
  5. Ensure student mobility continues in and across Europe
  6. Enhance the reputation and perceptions of the UK in the EU and globally

The University of Greenwich supports the view put forward by Alistair Jarvis of UUK that the priorities must be to encourage students from around the world to choose to study in the UK; making the UK an attractive destination for talented staff; enhancing international research partnerships; and increasing public investment in research and innovation. In the short term, further assurances are needed as a matter of urgency with regards the Government's continued financial investment in Erasmus+. Perceptions of the UK overseas as 'unwelcoming' since the 2016 referendum need to be redressed by universities and government so that London., England and the UK are seen as welcoming for international students, staff, and open for partnership development


1. http://thepienews.com/news/slump-eu-student-applications-uk-universities-ucas/

2. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/10/14/john-swinney-announces-eu-students-will-get-free-tuition-after-b/

3. http://www.education.ie/en/Publications/Policy-Reports/International-Education-Strategy-For-Ireland-2016-2020.pdf

4. http://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/policy-and-analysis/brexit/Pages/brexit-faqs.aspx#study

5. https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/hepi-director-nick-hillman-brexit-may-bring-new-opportunities-in-sector

6. https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/oct/26/cost-of-british-student-housing-has-risen-by-a-quarter-in-seven-years

7. https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/world-university-rankings-2016-2017-results-announced