Universities face uncertainty until EU talks are held

Jo Johnson, UK Minister of State for Universities and Science, has issued a holding statement following the EU referendum saying there will be no immediate changes affecting students, staff or research funding.

But he underlined that it is not yet understood how the decision to leave the European Union will affect universities and there is no prospect of knowing how arrangements will change until wider discussions on the future relationship with the EU have taken place.

The Prime Minister David Cameron has confirmed there will be no immediate changes in the circumstances of British citizens living in the EU, and European citizens living in the UK. This includes those studying or working at UK universities, Johnson said.

“For students, visitors, businesses and entrepreneurs who are already in the UK or who wish to come here, there will be no immediate change to our visa policies.”

However, it is not yet understood how the decision to leave the EU will affect higher education and research.

“Many of these questions will need to be considered as part of wider discussions about the UK’s future relationship with the EU, but where we can provide further information, we will do so,” Johnson said.

He underlined that for the time being the UK remains a member of the EU, and will continue to meet its obligations and receive relevant funding.

The process for leaving the EU is not expected to begin until the government triggers Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, after which there is a deadline of two years to complete exit negotiations.

However, due to Cameron’s resignation as prime minister and the subsequent launch of a leadership election campaign inside the Conservative Party, there is a consensus that the article should not be triggered before a new premier is in place.

Currently there is no political consensus among pro-Brexit leaders on what type of relationship the UK should have with the EU. Already two of the contenders, frontrunner Theresa May and leading Brexiter Michael Gove, have argued that Article 50 and/or exit negotiations should not be triggered until the government, under a new prime minister, has developed the UK's negotiating position and this will not be possible this year.

Addressing concerns of international staff and students at UK universities, Johnson said: “EU and international students make an important contribution to our world-class universities, and our European neighbours are among some of our closest research partners.

“There are obviously big discussions to be had with our European partners, and I look forward to working with the sector to ensure its voice is fully represented and that it continues to go from strength to strength.”

In a statement published on the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills website, the minister clarified that EU students who are eligible under current rules to receive loans and grants from the Student Loans Company will continue to do so for courses they are currently enrolled on or about to start this coming year.

The masters loans launched last week are also still available to eligible EU students. EU students will continue to receive funding for the duration of their courses. Information on the eligibility criteria, including residency rules, is available.

“But further future funding arrangements with the EU will be determined as part of the UK’s discussions on its membership and we will provide what updates and clarity we can,” Johnson said.

The referendum result does not affect students currently studying in the EU, beneficiaries of Erasmus+ or those considering applying in 2017. But the UK’s future access to the Erasmus+ programme will be determined as a part of wider discussions with the EU.

Looking more broadly than Erasmus+, Johnson said UK students currently studying in the EU, and those looking to start in the next academic year, will continue to be subject to current arrangements.

Horizon 2020 funding

The minister said the referendum result has no immediate effect on those applying to or participating in Horizon 2020. UK researchers and businesses can continue to apply to the programme in the usual way. But again, the future of UK access to European research and innovation funding will be a matter for future discussions.

“[The] government is determined to ensure that the UK continues to play a leading role in European and international research and innovation,” he said.

Johnson also confirmed that the government will continue taking forward the Higher Education and Research Bill, which proposed the introduction of a Teaching Excellence Framework, under which universities and their departments will be graded, using published data from surveys of student satisfaction, student retention rates, graduate employment rates, and other sources.