Brexit would undermine the UK’s position as a global leader in science, arts and innovation, the higher education leaders foresaw.
The then-president of Universities UK and vice-chancellor of the University of Kent, Julia Goodfellow, noted that, “Inside the EU, our outstanding British universities are even stronger.”
Just over seven years later, the University of Kent announced it would be winding down its Brussels School of International Studies satellite campus in Belgium by 2023 due to “increasing cost” among wider pressures.
Other non-UK providers have also reduced operations on the continent. The State University of New York said it would phase out a handful of academic programs at its Potsdam campus in Germany in the summer.
In the immediate aftermath of the decision to leave the EU, other UK institutions mused on their options for Europe.
Cardiff University vice-chancellor, Colin Riordan, told The Guardian there were universities thinking about setting up campuses in Europe – a new campus for the Welsh institution was one of the items up for discussion. But Riordan warned that “the world is littered with universities setting up new campuses and getting their fingers burned”.
Nancy Rothwell, vice-chancellor of Manchester University, was blunt when she said, “I don’t see the logic of having a European campus. I don’t see the value. Who would pay the running costs?”
In 2017, King’s College London suggested its research partnership already in place with Technische Universität Dresden in Germany, known as transCampus, could see it create a European campus.
The suggestion never came into fruition, but a decade after the partnership was created, the research initiative is still going strong.
While others were more hesitant, Lancaster University and Coventry University were two to take the step and announce branch campuses of their own within the European Union.
Lancaster looked to Leipzig in Germany and Coventry to Wrocław in western Poland.
Speaking with The PIE, director
Coventry University Wrocław, Jacek Lewandowski, explained that the campus, which has been leased for the next decade, is not only seeking to maintain a connection with the continent.
While it is predominantly for local and other EU students, the aim is to have 20% from beyond Europe. But together with the team led by Anna Olejnicka who acts as regional student recruitment manager, the European branch campus – which has the same legal entity as a British university in the UK – is “doing a great job” securing the post-Brexit recruitment to higher education system in the UK.
“There’s two of us are going this route”
“There’s two of us are going this route. Lancaster in Leipzig is a very good example of a TNE collaboration between Navitas and Lancaster. [But] we have done it ourselves, 100% owned by the university so we can be considered as a department based in the continent of Europe post-Brexit,” Lewandowski says.
He mentions the bureaucratic challenges that Brexit created for European students to reach the UK, as well as the affordability problems whereby students from the EU lost their access to home status fees in addition to government funding.
While students can’t get the grants and government support from the UK government as they previously had, Wroclaw offers a lower cost of living. An added benefit for students is that they can all join the post-Brexit UK exchange Turing scheme.
“Studying in the UK for many of the students has become [less] affordable. That is where we are coming with an offer of exactly the same degrees, taught in English, the same diplomas, but keeping this kind of pre-Brexit style,” he says.
“We’ve never had the impression to be a helicopter campus into Poland. What we really wanted to do was to be part of the higher education system in Poland and Europe.
“The campus is actually trying to make sure that we can still collaborate and that political differences are not affecting higher education, which is really focused on building bridges rather than breaking them.”
The target is to have a mix of students, 40% local, 40% wider European and 20% non-EU. Currently more than 100 students are enrolled on courses focusing on cyber security, computing science and business management.
It also launched a 50% scholarship program in June 2022 for refugees living in Poland fleeing the war in Ukraine.
More than 100 students are currently enrolled at the branch campus in Poland. Photo: Coventry University
“We predominantly want to attract to students from the 27 EU countries,” Lewandowski adds.
Olejnicka explains that the recruitment is very active, attending every education fair in Poland in addition to fairs abroad and close collaboration with agents.
The campus has also built a very strong link with the city, and wants to emphasise that collaboration.
“We attract a lot of experts from business and great academics. The diaspora of European academics in the UK have been quite big. It has slightly changed now. Many of them were feeling a bit unsure after Brexit and what their future would be there. I’m an example of that,” Lewandowski says.
“I’ve been living in the UK for many years. Of course I could continue my work there, but I had family links to Poland, which has led me to actually take over this role and combine family life with still contributing to the higher education system in the UK.”
“Some 95% of our second year students work”
In early September, Coventry University Wrocław celebrated its inaugural graduation ceremony, with graduates going on to work in companies such as Smith and Nephew, Amazon, McKinsey & Company, RyanAir Labs, BASF and Nokia. The employability outcomes for students is at the heart of the campus’s operations.
“Some 95% of our second year students work and many of them in recognised global companies,” Olejnicka details.
An honorary doctorate was also bestowed on former mayor of Wrocław, Rafał Dutkiewicz, further cementing the institution’s connection with the city.
“I am glad that [Coventry University] can be associated with Wrocław. I am also glad that after Brexit we can stay in this kind of intellectual contact with our friends in the UK,” he said at the ceremony.
Speaking during the summer, Coventry University vice-chancellor John Latham noted the strategic importance of Poland for the Coventry University Group’s agenda in Europe.
It is renowned as one of the UK’s most international institutions, with bases also in Belgium, Egypt, Dubai, Singapore, Africa and a joint institute college set to open with the Communication University of China.
For Lewandowski, who is originally from Wrocław, there is a “real momentum” to grow student numbers at the campus further.
“Internationalisation for the Polish high education system is very important. Both public or private universities are very eager to internationalise,” he adds. And Coventry is doing that while finding its place in the local ecosystem.