Brexit, higher education and research
What effects is Brexit likely to have on higher education and research in Europe? We put this question to LMU President Bernd Huber, and to members of LMU’s faculty and staff.
Many people in academia assume that Brexit’s impact on research collaborations and student exchange will be minor, and that everything will remain very much as it is now. But others believe that the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union will trigger major changes in the current support system. At all events, the issue raises many questions and not just among the UK’s own research community. “From my perspective, Brexit is quite simply a catastrophe for the European research enterprise,” says LMU-President Bernd Huber in the Times Higher Education. “The highly competitive research landscape in the UK is well known for the excellence of its universities. So managing the consequences of Brexit will present an enormous challenge for Europe’s higher-education system.” LMU staff members also view the possible repercussions of Brexit for academic research with alarm.
Professor Neil Thurman is a citizen of the UK and worked for 18 years at London University. Thurman is currently at LMU‘s Institute for Communication Science and Media Research, where his research focus is on Computational Journalism. He is also a Freigeist Fellow of the Volkswagen Foundation:
“The Brexit vote has been profoundly unsettling for many EU staff and students at UK universities. UK universities have relatively high levels of foreign staff. Non-British EU academics make up around 17% of the teaching and research staff at UK universities, with the proportion even higher at some institutions. What’s more these staff are some of the UK’s leading researchers, with, for example, high levels of success in ERC funding. While these staff, including over 5000 German nationals, are likely to be able to stay in the UK post-Brexit, some may not, feeling the UK has become a less open and less tolerant place to live. Even more significant, perhaps, for UK academia is the implication of Brexit on research funding and recruitment. There are doubts whether the UK Government will match, post Brexit, the funding UK universities currently receive from EU schemes, and whether, with Theresa May wanting to reduce net migration to “tens of thousands”, UK universities will be able to continue to recruit top-talent. As well as relying heavily on international staff, UK universities also have a high dependence on overseas students, whose tuition fees make up about 14 per cent of total university income. Post-Brexit tuition fees for EU students are likely to double, and with the uncertainty around the right to work, both during and after their studies, the UK is bound to become a less attractive destination, putting further pressure on university budgets. All-in-all Brexit is casting a dark cloud over British higher education.”
Jean Schleiss was born in Scotland, and has been involved in LMU‘s Erasmus Program for the past 30 years. Now Head of Cooperation and Mobility in LMU’s International Office, she continues to oversee this European Student Exchange Program:
“I voted for the first time, at the age of 19, in the very first referendum held in the UK. I was very happy to be among the 67% of voters who supported the UK’s membership of the European Communities at that time. Unfortunately, I was not eligible to vote this time, and I could only watch from afar how my homeland voted for Brexit. As a Scot and a convinced European, I still find it very difficult to accept that result. Since 1987, I have had the great good fortune to be closely involved in building up and managing the Erasmus Program at LMU. From the program’s inception, Great Britain was one of the most popular destinations for students from LMU. As soon as I had recovered from the initial Brexit shock, I began to think about the future of our partnerships with British universities. The UK’s National Agency for the management of Erasmus+ recently announced that 2016 was its most successful year ever, and that 2017 was expected to be a further record year for the Program. Now it looks as if the exchange with Britain is nearing its end. Our partners are just as shocked by the prospect of Brexit as we are, and many of them have confirmed their continuing commitment to the Program. Despite the uncertainty regarding its future, they have made it clear that they wish to cooperate with us in the future. Indeed, in an effort to minimize the possible repercussions of Brexit, several British universities have already concluded new exchange agreements with us. And the UK’s National Agency for Erasmus+ has meanwhile announced that Great Britain will remain a fully-fledged member of the Program in 2018. Universities UK International (UUKi) has also underlined the importance of German-British cooperation in this context. UUKi has already put together a list of priorities for the Brexit negotiations, and is determined to ensure that Britain’s decision to leave the EU will not bring an end to the mutual exchange of knowledge and expertise nor inhibit academic mobility between Britain and the European continent. In the hope that UUKi’s talks with the EU Commission and the British Government will prove successful, I remain cautiously optimistic.”
Professor Andreas Ladurner is an Italian citizen, who studied Biochemistry in England and obtained his doctorate at Cambridge University. A specialist in gene regulation, he joined LMU in 2010 and is now based at the Biomedical Center. Ladurner is currently serving, for the third time, as Coordinator of a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Innovative Training Network for doctoral students:
“Some of the rhetoric emanating ahead of the impending Brexit does not bode well for European science. Much of the knowledge that we take for granted, builds on a long academic and industrial history of free scientific exchange, transfer of knowledge and the funding of joint initiatives between the UK and the rest of Europe. Brexit will raise hurdles that may limit the free exchange of ideas and people, leading to a degree of separation in European science that negatively impacts the knowledge society. As a coordinator of EU-funded research networks, I have been most fortunate to work with fantastic colleagues, students and staff across all of Europe, unfettered by barriers. What makes these programs successful is how they innovate biomedicine by helping to structure new fields, bringing people together, allowing scientists to pursue new avenues and providing the high-quality training that helps bright young scientists develop their careers. Establishing joint research activities and scientific meetings across Europe requires significant financial support. Doing this together with UK colleagues may be much harder without EU support. Out of the diversity that defines all EU networks, comes a shared identity that celebrates knowledge and change. In my own field of epigenetics, we tackle how organisms survive by adapting to environmental changes. So I am convinced that European scientific networking will also adapt to and ultimately survive Brexit. But we need to work together with our UK colleagues to find new solutions that fit our enduring culture of European science.”