Brexit a ‘painful turning point’, says rectors’ head

The decision by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union will have impacts throughout European higher education and research, according to Horst Hippler, president of the German Rectors’ Conference or HRK. The HRK has pledged to do all it can to continue German collaboration with the UK.

Speaking in Berlin a day after the referendum result was officially announced, Hippler maintained that the consequences of Brexit would be damaging not only to British universities but to the entire European Higher Education and Research Area. He warned of a difficult transition period involving extensive negotiations to reset the conditions for the UK within the European funding and exchange programmes.

“For German universities and the German Rectors' Conference in particular, Brexit marks a painful turning point,” Hippler noted. “We maintain particularly close relationships with Great Britain in every respect, and share many fundamental principles – such as the belief that European research funding must be guided by quality criteria alone.”

Hippler stressed the value of the highly successful research partnerships and exchanges of students between the two countries, referring in particular to the profound impacts that they had had on both countries’ economies and on mutual understanding. “We will do all we can to continue the collaboration between universities in Great Britain, Germany and the rest of the EU without any disruptions,” he promised.

Looking forward, Hippler said that the HRK was hopeful that agreements would be reached between the EU and the UK in the near future to allow the funding needed for research collaboration and student exchange to continue. “We urge political decision-makers to come to viable agreements, despite the anti-European result, in order to limit the damage to the European Higher Education Area as much as possible,” he said.

A delegation of six UK university vice-chancellors headed by Universities UK President Dame Julia Goodfellow had already held meetings in Berlin with the HRK ahead of the referendum. Both sides had stressed the importance of the EU in maintaining collaboration in higher education and research between the two countries. “New barriers would throw us back for years and years,” Hippler had warned.

Markus Symmank, who heads the Erasmus Mobility Department of the German Academic Exchange Service or DAAD, believes that Brexit could spell the end of UK participation in the Erasmus Programme. Symmank maintains that the free movement of persons forms the basis of academic exchange. Any restrictions of such freedom would mean that Erasmus could not run in its present form.

Symmank also warns that studying and doing a doctorate in the UK could become much more expensive. “The UK would at least no longer be obliged to treat European students like home students,” he says. “And once this was established, it would pave the way for increases in tuition fees for European students coming to Britain.”

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