A no-deal Brexit is looking increasingly likely. What impact will this have on UK universities?

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With less access to funding, quitting academics, decreased intake and export of students to and from the EU, what’s not to love about a no-deal Brexit from the perspective of UK universities?

The irony of Brexit does anything but escape students, some of whom were not even able to vote in the EU Referendum, as opportunities begin to crumble away.

It can be a challenge to understand the potential impacts of a no-deal Brexit when those at the top puppeteering the whole ordeal don’t seem to have much of a clue about what will happen either.

If there’s one thing we can be sure of, it is that a no-deal Brexit will produce adverse negative effects for the British higher education system in a number of ways.

Firstly, departure from the EU without a deal would put crucial research and collaboration projects at universities at risk of collapse, or at the very least on hold, due to dramatic shrinkage in access to research funding.

The government has confirmed that funding for research projects will not change until the end of the decade. This simply isn’t enough. Funding will be at risk for future projects, putting a jolt in the system and reducing the security of long-term research endeavours.

The repercussions for Horizon 2020, the biggest EU programme providing research and innovation funding of €77 million, are unsettling, to say the least. Of the ten most successful recipients of Horizon funding, four are universities.

Dr Mike Galsworthy, programme director for the pro-Remain campaigning group, Scientists for EU, predicts a no-deal Brexit would lose the UK 45% of its access to high-value Horizon 2020 grants, which are worth around €577 million a year.

Although there is an agreement for the eligibility of UK businesses and researchers to participate in Horizon 2020 to stay unchanged for the remaining duration of the programme until 2020, there is a catch. A no-deal Brexit means that despite being eligible to participate, UK organisations may be unable to access funding for Horizon projects after exit day, which is expected to be 29 March 2019.

In turn, the bounds of academic research are limited by looming uncertainty, and less access to Horizon funding for the UK takes away from the focus of international research projects.

A no-deal Brexit will also bring great stress to current Erasmus scheme participants as well as huge disappointment to prospective Erasmus applicants. Erasmus+ is the EU funding programme for education, providing €14.7 billion in grants for exchanges and collaboration over seven years from 2014 to 2020. British participants can study or work abroad for up to a year in another European country. The UK is one of the most popular destinations for EU participants.

The scheme is far-reaching, with 725,000 people having studied, trained or volunteered through the programme in 2016. It provides the chance for not only personal and professional development, but also to gain invaluable international experience and encounter new cultures and ways of working.

The government is yet to reach an agreement with the EU for UK organisations to continue participating in Erasmus+ projects, leaving EU students in the lurch.

If there is no deal, neither British nor EU students will be eligible for the Erasmus university exchange programmes. British universities would no longer be available for exchange to students from the other 27 EU countries, and neither would universities in the EU for British students.

Funds will be covered by the government until the end of 2020, but after that, participation in Erasmus will depend on bilateral talks.

To top it all off, it has been predicted that there will be a rise in academics leaving UK universities. Evidence suggests that higher numbers of EU staff, who make up 17 per cent of UK university teaching and research posts, have quit following the Brexit vote.

Earlier this year, The Independent revealed that more than 2,300 EU academics had resigned from British universities amid indeterminacy of their futures. This will undoubtedly deprive students of a rich and diverse teaching experience. It is safe to say that a no-deal Brexit would be nothing short of a catastrophe for the higher education system.

Caitlin Tilley

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.