Impact of the UK leaving the EU on the education system – Friday 24 June 2016

Yesterday the UK voted to leave the European Union (EU) in a landmark referendum result. The result has already led to the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron, who has said he will step down by October this year. While the result was announced this morning, it will be at least 2 years before the UK actually leaves and exactly how and when this will happen is currently unclear. Mr Cameron’s resignation creates uncertainty with regard to decision-making in Government and also wider uncertainty that the two years (at least) negotiation to leave the EU will bring.

What does this mean for education?

Those supporting the ‘remain’ campaign have said that Britain is home to many of the world’s leading universities, its education system out performs some bigger European countries and Britain’s place in the EU is inextricably linked to this success. Universities UK (the representative organisation for the UK’s universities) has argued that there are 125,000 EU students at British universities generating more than £2.2bn for the economy and creating 19,000 jobs. 14% of academic staff come from other EU nations and research funding from Brussels is worth £1bn a year. It added that the quality of research is enhanced through EU co-operation, benefiting the economy and helping British academics to tap into a “continent-wide” pool of knowledge.

The European Social Fund (ESF) has also been cited as an example of how the EU can provide better learning opportunities to young people, as it has funded support for young people aged 14-19 who were not in employment, education or training and who may have had barriers to learning. Erasmus+ is a well-known programme allowing 250,000 students to undertake cultural and educational exchanges throughout Europe over seven years and this scheme provides Britain with funding of around €1bn over this period.

Those supporting the ‘leave’ campaign have said that Britain’s exit will not deter EU students from applying to British universities and if numbers of EU students were to fall, the increase in international fees applied to those who wanted to study in the UK could help plug a funding gap. The campaign has also countered claims that leaving the EU would end government plans to expand apprenticeships. They say the stronger economy brought about by Britain’s exit would fund apprenticeships and training. Fears over generous EU grants to universities would also be allayed by campaign promises over how current subsidies would be spent.

Does this now mean that all EU funding of research will end? that EU funding for apprenticeships and training will end? and that Britain’s membership of Erasmus+ is now uncertain? It has been intimated that current spending commitments will be honoured until the end of the current EU budget in 2020. We will need to see how the next few weeks and months pan out to get comprehensive answers to these questions.