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UK outlines Brexit aims but stakeholders say they need more clarity

Students should “continue to benefit from world leading universities and the cultural experiences the UK and the EU” after the UK leaves the EU, the British government has announced in a white paper. However, stakeholders have called for clarity following the document’s publication.

Despite the government setting out its hopes for a final 'soft Brexit', educators say more security is needed. Photo: Flickr/ airpix

Brexit minister Raab described student mobility provisions as "common sense"

The UK government has proposed a framework that “respects the UK’s control of its borders” as the same time helping students and young people to benefit from cultural exchanges such as Erasmus+. But free movement will be ended.

“We obviously want to have sensible [student mobility] arrangements”

“That allows us to avoid what is effectively the discriminatory approach between those coming from the EU and those coming from outside the EU,” the UK secretary of state for exiting the EU, Dominic Raab said.

There will be a “sensible approach” to future mobility arrangements for students and researchers, Raab told parliament.

“For students and those young people wanting to engage in research and go to universities, or indeed engage in the cultural activities across the continent, we obviously want to have sensible arrangements on that. That is common sense,” he said.

A UK-EU youth mobility scheme will seek to ensure young people can continue to enjoy the social, cultural and educational benefits of living in each other’s countries, the paper states.

“The UK already operates a number of youth mobility schemes with other global partners, for example with Australia and Canada, on which this could be modelled,” it reads.

“[A] reciprocal agreement on university fees should be a priority”

Labour MP for Durham, Roberta Blackman-Woods, told MPs that universities and their employees want a Brexit deal that would continue to provide access to European research funding and networks.

“Don’t people who work in higher education deserve more certainty than a wish list?” she asked.

In a statement, director of Universities UK International, Vivienne Stern, said it was encouraging to see the importance of attracting world class researchers and international students being acknowledged.

UUKi also welcomes proposals to continue participation in Horizon Europe and the next Erasmus program, she said. However, certainty is needed.

“We urge the government and the EU to engage and reach agreement on these matters as quickly as possible to provide the certainty that university students and staff need on opportunities to study abroad and collaborate in research,” Stern said.

A spokesperson from The Russell Group said close ties with European partners were essential for the UK’s long-term economic health and to tackle global challenges facing our societies.

“Doesn’t higher education deserve more certainty than a wish list?”

“It is through collaborative working that British and European universities and businesses have made great strides in medicine, public policy, engineering and technology,” they said.

“The flow of talent and ideas is the lifeblood of a successful knowledge economy and will be critical to the UK’s success, post-Brexit.”

The Russell Group has been clear that continued UK–EU cooperation on science, innovation and education would be a win-win for both sides, they added, welcoming “the proposal for co-operative accords with the EU in these areas”.

“The government should not only “explore” UK participation, as set out in the white paper, but should actively seek full association, from the outset of the program,” they said.

A “great deal of work will be needed to flesh out [the] proposals”, ahead of the October European Council meeting, the spokesperson added.

Greg Walker, chief executive of MillionPlus, the association for modern universities in the UK, said that the lack of detail around researcher mobility will “not reassure many”.

“[A] reciprocal agreement on university fees for EU students post-Brexit… is a matter that should be a priority for the government, not an also-ran issue,” Walker said. He accused the government of leaving fees as an “unanswered” question.

Walker added that any delay in creating an agreement before the October EU Council meeting would be “deeply problematic and expose the UK to a greater risk of ‘crashing out’ of the EU in March 2019”.

“Such an eventuality could bring hugely damaging consequences for UK universities, their staff and students.”

An European Students’ Union representative said that students “should not be made to suffer because of Brexit”, and, along with researchers, should continue to benefit from international programs.

“Any future mobility or funding scheme the UK will propose or take part in must still follow the principles of cooperation and reciprocity,” they said.

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