Message from Professor Julia Buckingham, Vice-Chancellor and President of Brunel University London:
The UK government has now formally triggered Article 50, which will lead to the UK leaving the EU in 2 years. It is therefore an opportune moment to reflect on what Brexit will mean for Brunel University London and what our response is to the challenges and opportunities that are thrown up by this seismic event.
The first thing that we need to be clear about is our support for our EU staff from outside the UK. They are an incredibly important part of the University and we would not be as strong in research and education without their contribution to our work. Many non-UK EU staff will undoubtedly be feeling rejected or insecure as a result of the referendum result and the subsequent political arguments. However, we need to be clear that they are a crucial and valued part of our community – as indeed are our staff who come from outside the EU. We are continuing to lobby proactively through a variety of routes to secure rights to long-term residency for our non-UK EU staff and their families. Our HR department will continue to run support sessions for staff to help them understand their options following Brexit.
We also value our EU students who come to us from outside the UK, who make up about 9% of our student body. The good news is that these students who start their studies in 2017/18 will continue to pay the same fees as Home students for the duration of their studies, and can access loans from the Student Loans Company. While we do not know what the situation will be in the future, it is highly unlikely that these students will be able to do this in the long term. There are ongoing discussions around their status in 2018/19.
In addition to EU students, the Erasmus programmes offer our students important opportunities to study outside the UK (and for others to come to the UK). This is potentially a very enriching experience for the students, and it is part of our international strategy to encourage student mobility. At this time we do not know the future of UK participation in the Erasmus scheme – the government may well encourage wider international mobility.
Brunel benefits considerably from EU research funding. This is important not just because of the money, but because it enables collaboration with universities and businesses. We do not know whether the UK will continue to access (and contribute to) European funds for research. There are likely to be some tough negotiations around this – as evidenced by Switzerland, who temporary lost access to EU funds (including Erasmus+) as a result of their referendum that limited mobility to Croatians. What is important is that the UK government has committed to ensure funding for grants that have been awarded. It is therefore our priority to continue to apply for such funding, while also looking at other opportunities for international funding, such as Global Challenges research funding.
At Brunel we will continue to maintain close links with EU universities. We are a founding member of YERUN (Young European Research Universities), a network formed from 18 universities under the age of 50. These links will open up opportunities for us to collaborate, in both research and education. YERUN members are very supportive of the position of UK universities and have issued a Brexit statement that is strongly supportive of maintaining close links with us. They will seek to ensure that research and education are prioritised in the negotiations.
Brexit undoubtedly will have a major impact on universities. We now do have some certainty about the timeline for the negotiations. It will be challenging for universities, and we are working with UUK and other organisations to make sure that the government understands the importance of research and higher education for the future prosperity of this country. UUK have also published Brexit FAQs, which are a useful source of information.
We also have a duty to keep making the case, both locally and nationally, for an open and tolerant society that welcomes and values people and ideas from around the world. The influence of higher education in our society will be even more important in the next few years.