Higher Education in post-Brexit UK – between insularity and alternative strategies for internationalisation
While the pandemic has overshadowed debates about the impact of Brexit on UK Higher Education, the ‘sector’ is waking up to some of the undesired consequences of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU - reflected, for example, in plummeting EU student admissions and staff recruitment, prevailing uncertainties about research funding and cooperation with European HE partners. At the same time, the ‘double shock’ of Covid and Brexit has also been a catalyst for UK higher education to rethink agency and strategy in view of (re-)integration, cooperation and mobility within and beyond Europe.
Drawing together the expert views of both UK and EU-based scholars, this SRHE IRR (International Research and Researchers) event seeks to provide a critical ‘reality check’ of UK international higher education (strategies) one year into Brexit and explore possible future scenarios of UK-EU HE relations.
Dr Jana Kleibert, Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space & Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Dr Vassiliki Papatsiba, University of Sheffield
Dr Amélia Veiga, University of Porto
Dr Ludovic Highman, University of Bath
Hopes and Concerns for a Post-Brexit UK Higher Education
Dr Vassiliki Papatsiba, University of Sheffield
Brexit presents a major disruption to the UK higher education ecosystem with far-reaching consequences. In this presentation I will draw from an ESRC-funded study (2017-2019) that included 127 participants from twelve universities in the four UK nations: England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. These participants were predominantly institutional leaders: senior university executives, administrators, and academics - with some student and governing council representatives. Their high level and frontline experience of higher education and research captured in our data provides authentic insights into the complexities of the current situation, the subsequent overlapping consequences, and also their individual and collective hopes for UK Higher Education post-Brexit.
Even through the pandemic may have delayed and blurred some of the undesirable effects of Brexit, an unprecedented drop of EU students in UK higher education is already being observed in 2021-22 admissions. UCAS data (30 June 2021) indicated a 44 percent drop in EU student applications across programmes whereas a more recent publication (UCAS, 7 September 2021) showed an even more severe fall of 56.4 percent of EU students accepted in undergraduate study programmes. In addition to students, our participants discussed research revenues, leadership of large collaborative research projects, future staff recruitment out of EU countries, and finally European engagement of researchers and institutions in the form of collaboration and partnerships. All these were key areas exposed to the severing of ties with Europe.
In addition to these discrete areas of activity deserving attention, our research revealed some less well appreciated intersections between academic cultures, quality, reputation, talent, openness and connectedness - as well as the UK potentially becoming more ‘insular’, ‘isolated’, less collaborative and diverse. However, these serious concerns were at moments tempered with hope, especially when participants contemplated the degrees of collective and individual agency that UK higher education enjoys, as well as potential global opportunities to embrace, thus displaying a more inclusive and widened international vision.
BREXIT and the Multiple Meanings of Cooperation in Higher Education
Amélia Veiga, University of Porto
One of the critical developments for Europe and the rest of the world regarding the internationalisation of higher education is the evident shift from (only) cooperation to (more) competition. In the wake of Brexit, the relevance of cooperation in finding alternative approaches to internationalisation gains a new impetus. The extent to which Brexit induces a movement beyond the imaginaries of (only) cooperation to (more) competition is key to understanding how the internationalisation of higher education will remain influenced by cooperation driven by academic values and beliefs. Conveying secondary data analysis of ten case studies undertaken in the framework of the exploratory research project titled Brexit and higher education in the UK and Europe: Towards a cross-country investigation, the presentation will discuss a plurality of meanings of cooperation in higher education.
Post-Brexit Mobility Strategies and the Role of Transnational Education
Jana Kleibert, Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space & Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Higher education in the UK depends on mobilities of capital, labour and students. The talk explores how the global economic geographies of British transnational education are reconfigured in anticipation of changing student mobilities following Brexit. Based on qualitative research and in-depth interviews with decision-makers in higher education in the UK, I map the investments and analyse the rationales, narratives and spatial imaginaries motivating the construction of offshore campuses. Strategies of UK universities reveal efforts at constructing a ‘Global Britain’ and towards European (re-)integration through campus development in the European Union. Their intention is to provide an ‘insurance policy’ against the anticipated financial consequences of Brexit.