Universities and colleges are a major source of competitive advantage to business, in terms of their research, support for innovation and as a source of talented recruits. Colleges play a vital role in the further education, not just of young people, but of mature students, through retraining and upskilling in communities. Universities are also economic anchors in their regions and magnets for inward investment. Through both direct and multiplier effects, the higher education sector generates over £73 billion of output and 760,000 full-time equivalent jobs throughout the economy [1] .Some immediate concerns in the education sector have been allayed by government announcements on research funding and student access to finance, but concerns remain over the impact of longer-term uncertainty. There are also already many anecdotal reports of potential EU collaborators showing reluctance to work with UK partners on EU funded projects, particularly if it involves the UK participant as project coordinator. The sector has placed considerable resource into calming the concerns of staff, students and collaborators, and evidence from the Universities and Colleges Employers Association suggests this has so far limited effects.

Key stats

  • 2.9 million employees
  • £98.1 billion GVA (5.9% of total GVA)
  • 6.4% of University students are from EU
Migration: The UK's new immigration system must recognise the education sector's need for skilled international staff and students

Universities employ around 32,000 non-UK EU nationals, making up 16% of the academic workforce [2] . Additionally, 6.4% of full-time undergraduate and post-graduate students at UK universities are non-UK EU nationals [3] . A clear international message that the UK is open for business and an attractive destination for talent, and assurances that existing EU staff will be able to remain in the UK following the UK's exit from the EU, are high priorities for the sector. Clarity over the financial position of students beginning their course in 2018-19 would also give the sector some respite.

Similarly, numerous colleges have voiced concerns about protections for their EU-national students and staff members. Calculations are ongoing to assess the full numbers of EU students and staff within colleges. But the skills shortages in certain sectors – such as construction and engineering – are reflected in the challenges of recruiting talented staff to teaching roles in these areas. It is important that leaving the EU does not make it even more difficult to fill vacancies in these areas.

Funding: A new funding deal for innovation must consider the benefits of international collaboration

Universities received £3.9 billion in research income from EU sources between the 2009/10 to 2014/15 academic years [4] . The majority of funding since 2014 has come from Horizon 2020 (including via the European Research Council). However, Universities also benefit from other EU funding streams, particularly the European Structural and Investment Funding, European Regional Development Funding and European Investment Bank loans on attractive terms.

Many of the funds received by UK colleges from the EU fulfil social aims, through European Social Funding. In the years 2014-15, colleges received £100 million ESF income and £18 million in direct European grants [5] . These schemes target unemployment, small businesses and enterprise, and also facilitate international collaboration on serious shared challenges like domestic violence and homelessness. New domestic systems of funding can fulfil these objectives, but the UK alone cannot replace all the benefits conferred by full participation in Horizon2020 and the collaboration of academia and industry on an international level.

Exit: A smooth exit is needed to ensure no funding shortfall for education

Given the significance of funding from EU sources for the education sector, a smooth transition from EU funding to UK funding is needed. A shortfall must be avoided.

Our members say

"The key concern right now is the view held by potential European partners that UK institutions are not a good bet when it comes to putting together research consortia." - Scottish university

"The fees European students pay represent a proportion of the college's income that we could ill-afford to be without, and by improving their skills, these people go on to make a greater positive impact on our local economy as more productive employees." - medium sized further education college

"I think it is very likely that the UK will negotiate its way back into Horizon 2020 and its successors, although we need to keep up the pressure. Much more problematic is the importance of EU students to the finances of many universities, including my own. In addition, our EU students are among our brightest and best, adding to the vitality of our learning community." - London University with over 20,000 students
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[1] Universities UK, The Economic Role of Universities

[2] DAAD, September 2016

[3] UKCISA, International student statistics: UK higher education

[4] Universities UK, Effect of exiting the EU on higher education

[5] Association of Colleges

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