Concerns raised on the impact of Brexit on higher and further education
A no-deal Brexit scenario would be significantly disruptive to both the higher and further education sectors – extremely so for the higher education sector, a National Assembly committee has said.
As part of its inquiry into the Impact of Brexit on Higher and Further Education, the Children, Young People and Education Committee has looked at both the challenges and opportunities Brexit poses for the education sectors. The Committee came to three main conclusions:
The Committee found that even with a broadly favourable Withdrawal Agreement it is probable that many key areas of university and college activity would still need to make changes. This was particularly true for the higher education sector where significant activity is currently linked to the free movement of UK and EU staff and students.
Despite Treasury funding guarantees, a no-deal scenario would be significantly disruptive to both sectors – deeply so for the higher education sector with its wide-range of international collaborations and participation in research networks.
Evidence received identified few opportunities from either sector arising from Brexit in the short-term, and those that were raised, were done so in the context of making the best of Brexit.
Flowing from its main conclusions, the Committee highlighted the following eight key issues, that although linked to some degree, were considered separately in the report:
Key issue 1: Immigration restrictions for EU staff and students
Key issue 2: Withdrawal of Tuition Fee Grants and potential loss of student loans
Key issue 3: Existing funding pressures and student recruitment
Key issue 4: ERASMUS+ and other mobility schemes
Key issue 5: Replacing EU funding
Key issue 6: Dependence of FE colleges on the strength of employers and the economy
Key issue 7: Challenges faced by Welsh research and innovation
Key issue 8: Welsh Government preparedness for Brexit
The Committee makes 12 recommendations in its report, including:
The Welsh Government should proactively demand, via any future UK Immigration Bill, executive powers for Welsh Ministers that allow them to make spatially different immigration rules specifically for students and academic staff in Wales. (It is noted in the report that Michelle Brown AM did not agree with this recommendation).
The Welsh Government must work with the higher and further education sectors to put in place and test funding arrangements that will guarantee no financial disruption or uncertainty for ERASMUS+ students, particularly those on modern language degrees, taking into account the conditions attached to the current Treasury guarantee.
The Welsh Government must commission a further research project, building on the recent work which informed the international mobility pilot, to develop a more detailed picture of the impact of international mobility on the outcomes of students from under-represented groups in Wales.
The Welsh Government must commit to working jointly with the further education sector to jointly develop and publish a plan, funded by a EU Transition Fund bid and taking account of the differing regional needs, to identify and respond to any changing skills demands in those sectors most likely to experience Brexit related disruption.
The Welsh Government must recognise the fundamental importance of research and innovation to the prosperity of Wales and recognise the danger inherent in falling behind England and Scotland in funding these activities in what is an extremely competitive setting. The Welsh Government must therefore begin to immediately fund the recommendations made by Professor Reid in his review.
Chair of the Children, Young People and Education Committee, Lynne Neagle AM, said:
"Brexit will undoubtedly have a disruptive impact on both higher and further education, and whilst we recognise that there are shared themes across the sectors – the impact on both will be different.
"In looking to do all we can to help mitigate and disruption, it is important that we do not simply conflate the very visible impacts on our universities, with the impacts on our colleges which are on the whole more locally rooted. So in making our recommendations we have carefully considered the evidence for both sectors"
In relation to the specific recommendations, Lynne Neagle AM went on to say:
"The Committee is very concerned that the almost inevitable change from the current immigration system will have a detrimental impact on universities. To reduce uncertainty, there must be as little change as possible to the rules governing the movement of EU students and staff - that is why we are calling on the Welsh Government to be proactive in trying to secure the executive powers it needs to allow them to make spatially different immigration rules specifically for students and academic staff in Wales.
"To help ensure disruption to international movement is kept to a minimum, we must also understand what motivates EU and other international students to come to Wales to study. We believe the Welsh Government should commission research to answer this question.
"The Welsh Government must also recognise the fundamental importance of research and innovation to the prosperity of Wales. There is a danger that Wales could fall behind England and Scotland in funding these activities in what is an extremely competitive setting. The Welsh Government must immediately begin to fund the recommendations made by Professor Reid in his review."
Read the full report:
Children, Young People and Education Committee Report - Degrees of Separation? The Impact of Brexit on Higher and Further Education (PDF, 719 KB)