Everyone’s writing a Brexit thinkpiece these days. Literally, everyone. I’m feeling left out. So here’s mine.
1) Brexit isn’t a foregone conclusion. Yes, Leave won 52% of a non-binding referendum based on a pack of lies about the results of future negotiations that would make the PQ blush. But the UK government has yet to invoke Article 50, the clause in the EU constitution that signals a 2-year countdown to departure, and will certainly not do so until a new PM is chosen.They may not do so until after the French and German elections next year, and as the realities of negotiating a divorce sink in they may never do so (and – irony of ironies, there are not enough trade lawyers in the UK to negotiate such deals, so they are having to import them ) . Even if they do start negotiations, the final settlement may be so far from the Leave fairytale that there would almost certainly be a huge demand for a second referendum before ratification. So all this handwringing may be for naught.
2) Even if Brexit doesn’t happen, this episode can cause a lot of damage. The UK hasn’t been booted out of the Erasmus student mobility program yet, but with racist incidents up 500% since the vote, you can bet there will fewer European students thinking London is a place they’ll feel secure. The UK hasn’t been booted out of the Horizon 2020 European research scheme yet, but multi-national scientific teams have been pulling UK researchers’ names from their proposals in anticipation of Brexit. And the idea that the UK will make up for the drop in funding? Good luck with that. Paradoxically, the longer the uncertainty about Brexit, the less likely the UK will actually pull the trigger; but conversely, the longer they wait, the greater the damage will be.
3) What will happen to International student flows? Now this is where it gets tricky. A lot of the focus right now is on EU students, and the fear that they won’t come to the UK because they will have to pay international student fees instead of domestic ones. But domestic fees are already pretty high (and in humanities and social sciences are set well above the cost of delivery). If universities want to keep those students they could always grant concessionary fees to EU students and keep them paying exactly what they’re paying right now. No, I think the real issue with EU students has to do with whether students still think the UK is a place they want to spend a part of their lives. Lots of them now go assuming they can stay and work there: no more. But it’s not clear that countries like Canada or Australia would be able to pick up on this loss. If the point of going to London was because it was a “destination” rather than simply a chance to learn English, it’s not obvious that Melbourne or Toronto would be a satisfactory second choice.
It’s the same with non-EU students: you might think that there would be a lot of non-EU students who might be dissuaded from going either because of increasing incidence of racism or because London was no longer a way into the EU. Since the Tories took power it’s been increasingly difficult for graduating students to immigrate anyway, so it’s unlikely to be the latter: Teresa May’s immigration saw that lot off years ago. But the racism/intolerance thing? That’s a vulnerability.
4) Can Canadian universities and colleges cash in on this? Yes. Advertise a lot in Asian markets where UK currently does well. Emphasize security and multiculturalism. Talk about possibilities for immigration. And do it fast, because odds are the Aussies are already there doing it.
Hope you’re all having a good summer.