Unions fear job losses, tuition fee rises post-Brexit

Unions representing academics and students have demanded urgent assurance of support for higher education in the wake of the majority vote to leave the European Union in the recent referendum, amid fears that loss of EU funding will put staff jobs at risk and lead to students being charged higher tuition fees.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, has written to Business Secretary Sajid Javid, demanding a clear plan of action to address the implications for universities and colleges, including the financial ones, since UK colleges and universities receive significant funding from EU projects and students from across the EU support thousands of jobs in the education sector.

Hunt said: “In a sector with a highly internationalised workforce which itself teachers a diverse student body, there will be a significant impact on staff and students themselves.”

She said that in order to effectively plan for the future, universities and colleges need clarity on what that government will now do to mitigate any negative impact of EU withdrawal.

“That must include a clear plan for stable, long-term funding to replace any loss of income from EU sources, as well as urgent clarification about the impact of the result on further and higher education policy.

“There must also be a clear consideration of how we can ensure that the best and brightest staff and students from across the EU will continue to be supported to work and study in the UK.”

The President of the National Union of Students or NUS, Megan Dunn, has written to Prime Minister David Cameron warning that the referendum vote in favour of leaving the European Union has raised critical questions for students on which they will be seeking assurances.

Dunn said the decision has left non-UK EU students undertaking courses in the UK unclear about their position. “There will similarly be UK students studying at college and university level in countries across the EU who will want to know what this result means for them.”

She said higher education receives considerable funding through EU institutions, and the result will place significant pressures on UK universities.

“Students will be concerned that any removal of this funding could have implications for the support they receive, and this concern will of course be greatest for the most vulnerable students."

Meanwhile, Fernando Galan, president of the European Students' Union or ESU, has issued a statement of concern and disappointment in a decision that is going to have “long term and irreversible consequences for the younger generation – the majority of whom did not vote for this outcome”.

He said: “We hope that the new UK government and the EU institutions will find a deal that won’t jeopardise students in the UK, and that UK universities won’t increase tuition fees to compensate the loss of EU money.”

He said his union shares the concerns of the NUS that this vote could risk shutting UK students out of opportunities such as Erasmus, while the diversity of campuses could be reduced as inward and outward mobility of students is limited.

ESU said European higher education relies on cooperation and partnership. The UK’s vote to leave the EU will have long-term consequences for the future funding of UK higher education and EU-wide research funding and collaboration.

Galan backed NUS’s call for Prime Minister Cameron to commit to protect EU students currently studying in the UK, and UK students studying elsewhere in the EU, and offer reassurance as to their continued right to study.

For the NUS, Dunn stressed the importance of making sure that the voices of students and young people on how to move forward are heard and represented. “This result will have vast, wide-ranging implications for students and their futures."

In her letter to Cameron, she said: “We know that this decision will affect young people more than any other, and it would be wrong that older generations dominate discussions and decisions. I am writing to seek your assurance that students and young people will be not only thoroughly consulted but to ensure that a proactive effort is made to include their voices in decisions that are made."

Hate crimes

Beth Button, current NUS-Wales president and newly elected member of the ESU Executive Committee, said the students of Europe have a responsibility to make Europe a fairer place and unite in the face of hate and division, a reference to the stirring up of anti-immigrant sentiment in the UK during the referendum campaign and a 50% rise in hate crimes since the vote.

"ESU believes in cooperation, collectivism and unity. These values are central to our movement of students in Europe and we believe they should be central to our relationships in Europe.”

A recent survey of ‘top graduate employers’ revealed that 49% were likely to lower their intake if Britain left the EU. The sectors most at risk were banking and finance, retail, media, technology and law. The reasons cited were the impact of Brexit on the economy and therefore the volume of business, general uncertainty and a lower talent pool of EU graduates applying for jobs.

Meanwhile, a luxury student property provider in the UK, Collegiate AC, said it did not expect to see any reduction in the levels of participation in higher education as a result of the general economic impact of the vote for ‘Brexit’. This is because education, as an essential good, “remains a priority whatever the economic outlook”, said CEO Heriberto Cuanalo.

“In terms of accommodation, we actually saw a spike in booking confirmations over the weekend as our international student tenants took advantage of the lower pound to maximise savings in their housing costs,” he said.