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Brexit: Industry reacts as UK votes to leave EU

In a referendum that saw the highest turnout in a national vote in nearly 25 years, the UK has voted to leave the European Union, with immediate dramatic consequences for the value of the pound sterling and a period of uncertainty for all industries, including international education.

Universities are working to convince the UK government to ensure EU staff and students can continue to work and study in Britain.

"Universities aren't going to change. We are embedded in a European context"

Long-term, uncertainty around migration agreements underpins the narrow win, with 51.9% of the electorate voting to leave.

The university sector has been shocked by the result after a year-long drive to support the remain campaign.

“Our jobs are more difficult now because we need to get out on the road to reassure people”

Julia Goodfellow, president of Universities UK acknowledged, “Leaving the EU will create significant challenges for universities.

“Our first priority will be to convince the UK government to takes steps to ensure that staff and students from EU countries can continue to work and study at British universities and to promote the UK as a welcoming destination for the brightest and best minds,” she added.

“We will also prioritise securing opportunities for our researchers and students to access vital pan-European programmes and build new global networks.”

She included a positive tone noting that the leaving processes will not “happen overnight” and that here will be “significant opportunities to seek assurances and influence future policy” in the leaving process.

Speaking with The PIE News, Vincenzo Raimo, pro vice-chancellor for global engagement at the University of Reading said universities now must reassure overseas partners that the UK remains an open and welcoming place.

“Our jobs are more difficult now because we need to get out on the road to reassure people,” he said. Change won’t happen overnight, he added. “Universities aren’t going to change. We are embedded in a European context, we are international by our very nature.”

Raimo said the University of Reading has already issued a tuition guarantee to European students enrolling in September that fees will not increase during their time on campus regardless of any potential policy changes.

“I suspect other universities will do that to help them finish as they started. We won’t impose a guillotine overnight,” he said.

NUS International tweeted that negotiations to identify the best solution for EU international students in UK will begin as soon as a timeline is identified for the formal process of the UK leaving.

For Tier 4 to be extended to all EU students would be everyone’s worst nightmare

John Mountford, international director at the Association of Colleges, told The PIE News he is concerned about what the result could mean for the vital European partnerships UK colleges and further education providers hold.

“European projects and partnerships are really important for colleges. We need to work with our partners and colleges to ensure that,” he said. He added that the situation also highlights the significance of partnerships outside of the EU.

“It just demonstrates the importance of global partnerships around the world, in China and Canada, for example. They have an even more important role to play to help grow the sector,” he said.

Dominic Scott, CEO of the UK Council for International Student Affairs said that the result “will clearly send very worrying signals to thousands of EU students and indeed British students hoping to participate in EU mobility programmes.” Given the government’s “relentless pressure” to cut net migration, including curbs on students, Scott added that “it is not surprising that this has been the result”.

But he added that he’s confident “everyone will do everything in their power to find ways to ensure as much continued mobility as possible and students currently here need to be re-assured that, as far as we understand it, there were be virtually no consequences for them whatsoever.”

For other students, however, Scott said “we must wait and see but it may be many months before any of this becomes clear”.

“For Tier 4 though to be extended to all EU students would be everyone’s worst nightmare,” he told The PIE News.

Meanwhile in a statement, Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, said leaving the EU creates “significant uncertainty for our leading universities”.

She said the group will work with government to minimise any disruption caused by this decision.

“Throughout the campaign both sides acknowledged the value of EU funding to our universities and we will be seeking assurances from the government that this will be replaced and sustained long term,” she said, adding that the group will be also be seeking assurances from the government that staff and students from other countries currently working and studying at Russell Group institutions can continue to do so once the UK leaves the EU.

“The free movement of talent, the networks, collaborations, critical mass of research activity and funding from EU membership have played a crucial part in the success of Russell Group universities,” she said.

“We will be working closely with the government to secure the best deal for universities from the negotiations to come so that we can continue to form productive collaborations across Europe.”

“It just demonstrates the importance of global partnerships around the world”

Meanwhile English UK, the representative body of the UK’s English language sector, a vital pipeline to higher educator providers, has said it will need more government support to prop up the industry after a 13% year on year decline in business and 23% fall over the last four years.

“Welcoming international students to our language schools brings many soft power benefits to the UK as well as hard cash: those can only become more important as we contemplate our future as a nation outside the EU,” said Steve Phillips, chair of English UK.

Working to remove international students from net migration figures will be a target point for EUK’s lobbying, said Phillips.

“As the UK goes forward after the referendum, we urge the government to remember that while there has been a great deal of debate about immigration, the majority of people in the UK do not classify students as migrants.”

“We are at risk of losing our leading position in the global ELT industry to Australia, whose industry has been actively supported by their government during the past few years,” he charged, noting that the country’s global market share has declined from 49% in 2011 to 43% in 2015.

Despite the degree of uncertainty as to what the Brexit implications will be for the industry, education agencies have identified a short-term upside to the decreasing value of the pound sterling.

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