Saturday, 22 October 2016

Brexit: and threatening the UK's research centres ... ... ... ... or: the 'catalyst' universities need to improve?

The University of Exeter is an important hub for the County - and has expressed concerns about the impact of the referendum:
Futures Forum: Brexit: and Exeter University: and "the huge number of overseas students which makes it one of the leading universities in the country, if not in the world."

Other universities are equally anxious, as reported earlier in the Guardian:

Our universities and research centres are thriving. Brexit threatens them

David Willetts 
Sunday 16 October 2016

Leaving the EU will create a universities funding gap that the government must fill. But ensuring freedom of movement for researchers is just as crucial

‘It makes no sense to try to restrict the number of legitimate overseas students coming to study at our universities. They are a fantastic export opportunity.’ Students from Korea at the London School of Economics in London. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

The university and research community was overwhelmingly in favour of Britain remaining in the EU. The result came as even more of a shock because it revealed the scale of the gap between them and the wider public. Looking back, one can see that they focused too much on the funding universities get from the EU: it sounded self-interested and enabled the Brexiters to reply that as Britain was overall a net contributor to the EU budget, those funds could be diverted to compensate for the loss of research funding.

Actually, it is about more than just money. EU research funding usually comes with a condition that it be spent on projects in more than one country; this promotes the creation of international networks. Research is enhanced by looking at an issue from more than one perspective: more than half of papers by British academics are now co-authored with someone from outside the UK, and these papers tend to be cited more highly. So the real fear of universities, even greater than the anxiety about money, is that Brexit weakens these important links.

The government is well aware of the risk. One of Theresa May’s first acts as prime minister was to send a strong letter of support to Paul Nurse, the former president of the Royal Society, who runs the Crick Institute (on whose board I sit). Chancellor Philip Hammond has pledged to continue to fund projects which have already won funding from the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme. Jo Johnson, minister for universities and science, has announced that EU students applying to come to a university here in 2017 can be assured of continuing access to loans and grants for the duration of their course.

The government, then, clearly understands that there is a problem and is doing its best to help. But beyond this there are long-term issues which need to be tackled as part of the planning for Brexit.

Top of the list is the free movement of academics and students. There is already a visa regime for academics and researchers from outside the EU which is so tight it can inhibit legitimate research contacts. For example, the government is focused on the problem of antimicrobial resistance, and so academics from developing countries most affected by the problem are invited to contribute to conferences here about it; but they then get their applications for visas turned down. There is a risk that EU academics might in future be subject to a similarly strict visa regime, which could obstruct their ability to move here, either to work or even just to come to meetings. That is why our universities need confidence that the visa regime will make it easy for academics at all levels – including postgraduate students – to move here easily.

The effect on undergraduates is another concern. At the moment, EU students pay the regulated £9,000 fees and are eligible for student loans. They will presumably become like other international students with unrestricted fees and no access to loans. The pessimists fear that EU students will be put off by higher fees with no loans. But if our universities provide a world-class education, there is a chance that they could actually get more revenues from them. The visa regime is crucial here. It makes no sense to try to restrict the number of legitimate overseas students coming to study at our universities – they are a fantastic export opportunity.

The talk of only letting in the “brightest and the best” misses the point. They are not migrants – we quite rightly expect these students to return home at the end of their course. They need to have the mastery of English and the academic aptitude to benefit from higher education, but we do not need to be more selective than that. We do not say that the car industry should only sell Bentleys abroad, not Minis. We do not say they should only sell to drivers with an advanced motoring qualification. Higher education for overseas students is a legitimate transaction, selling a fantastic British service. It is not the same as recruiting migrant workers.

So, for example, the University of Warwick has close ties to Monash, one of Australia’s leading universities, and was planning an integrated course which included Warwick students doing a year there. But they could not receive loans from the British government to cover their education, whereas Australian students here do get some help from their government. The Higher Education and Research bill is a great opportunity to make these loans available to British students for study in countries that ministers specify. This is all part of the opening up to the wider world which the Brexiters say they want. And if it encourages more people to study abroad, it even reduces net migration.

This still leaves the worries of the research community about reduced participation in research collaborations. There are lots of ideas about how to respond. Some universities are thinking of setting up operations on the continent in order to stay within these valuable networks. Another possibility is to join EU research programmes without being a member – that is what Switzerland has done for example, though it is now caught up in a dispute with the EU, which has suspended their participation after they voted in a referendum for more controls on migration. A third way round the problem is to run our own scheme in parallel with the EU to fund British participation in EU programmes.

Some of Europe’s key research and innovation networks are already intergovernmental, not part of the EU. The European Space Agency, which provided Tim Peake with his mission and which now has a base in Harwell after I – when minister for universities and science – boosted our contribution to it, is a great way to collaborate with other countries in science and technology. The European Molecular Biology Laboratory has the excellent European Bioinformatics Institute at Hinxton outside Cambridge. Its headquarters are in Heidelberg, a source of great pride in Germany. A top-level visit there with a strong message of support for that kind of research collaboration would help undo some of the damage done by German reporting, especially of the Tory party conference.

The government has already signalled it understands the importance of these intergovernmental agencies by offering to offset the increase in the cost of our contributions because of the weakness of the pound. But we need to go further with positive efforts to increase our involvement in science and technology collaborations with countries across the world. The prime minister has told me that she sees the importance of this – and I hope it remains a priority for her government.

David Willetts is executive chair of the Resolution Foundation, and is a former minister for universities and science

Britain has a proud academic record. We must not let Brexit devalue it | David Willetts | Opinion | The Guardian

The chair of the group of top UK universities will have none of it:

Brexit could be 'the catalyst we all need', says Russell Group chair, Sir David Greenaway

Rachael Pells Education Correspondent 9 hours ago 32 comments

Universities should stop contesting Brexit and take advantage of the opportunities it presents, the chair of the Russell Group has said.

Sir David Greenaway, who heads the group of leading British institutions, has argued that Brexit is “the catalyst we all need” and could give universities more freedom outside of the EU.

Higher education professions have spoken overwhelmingly against leaving the EU over the previous months, with some 90 per cent of academics voting to remain in the June referendum.

But, Sir David suggested, the community’s “relative unity” in rejecting the vote was close-minded.

Writing for The Telegraph, he said: “It fills me with slight unease. Why? Because it suggests either the academic world knows something the electorate doesn’t or we’re hopelessly out of touch.

“While we deal with this sense of loss and disconnect there's a risk that the opportunities presented by Brexit are overshadowed.”

Sir David, who is Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nottingham, said his institute’s response to Brexit “is to become more global” and “more outwardly facing” as it becomes more important than ever for universities to forge new global links.

Nottingham University has partnerships with business giants Rolls Royce, Boots and GSK and was the first foreign university to set up a campus in China.

The Brexit referendum also highlighted a need for politics to be less focused on London and the south-east of England, Sir David added: “That makes it all the more important that our universities are on the front foot and developing their role as hubs in our cities and regions.

“Across the country, not just in Nottingham, we have huge strengths in those areas that play to the Government’s agenda of great technologies. We have to make sure we develop the right connections outside Western Europe and build on what we have in Asia.”

Following the summer referendum, a number of British universities were rumoured to be planning new campus expansions abroad. The University of Buckingham said a new campus may be opened in Budapest or Sarajevo, where the private college already has business links. Finland, China and the Republic of Ireland are also said to be attractive options for institutions looking for greater opportunities post Brexit.

“I’m keen to rediscover that sense of breaking free and exceeding expectations all over again," said Sir David, "we all can. Brexit might be the catalyst we all need.”

Brexit the 'catalyst' universities need to improve, says Russell Group chair | The Independent
Outgoing vice-chancellor tells universities: Brexit is 'the catalyst we all need' - Telegraph

Although one of the UK's most important research industries feels its concerns are being ignored:
Ministers snub life sciences industry’s report on Brexit - Telepgraph

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