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HE: Maximising the UK's Higher Education profile in Europe after Brexit

Q&A with Anne-May Janssen, Head of European Engagement, Universities UK International


Anne-May Janssen


Anne-May offers a spotlight on maximising the HE sector’s profile in Europe and supporting universities to thrive after Brexit.

What do you think will be the most significant challenges facing Higher Education Institutions post EU exit?

International collaboration is an inherent part of our sector. UK higher education institutions have far reaching ties and collaborative partnerships with their European counterparts across the continent, in both research and education. Keeping that collaboration at the same high level and standard is very important to the sector. That collaborative nature of the higher education sector translates itself into a number of risks which we’ve identified, which we are lobbying the UK Government to address in its exit negotiations. These risks include weakening the UK higher education sector’s reputation as a collaborator of choice in vital research; losing access to key funding mechanisms that support excellent research; slipping further behind competitors in sending students abroad as part of their degrees; losing our EU academics; and a steep decline in EU student enrollment to UK universities.

Universities UK is in regular dialogue with the UK Government, EU officials and our European counterparts to make sure that the sector’s positions are clearly understood and to secure an effective post-exit settlement for universities. This should include full access to Horizon 2020 and its successor programme Horizon Europe, as well as full access to Erasmus+ and its successor programme Erasmus. We also urge the Government to build an immigration system that supports universities’ ability to attract global talent with minimal barriers.

With this in mind, what can universities do to overcome the challenges ahead?

It is very important to go ahead with business as usual. In December last year the EU and the UK agreed that the UK can continue to participate in Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ until the end of these programmes (December 2020) under the same terms and conditions as member states. This means that the UK is a full participant to these programmes. This, unfortunately, is not fully known and understood, both in UK as well as in other European universities. This is why it is crucial that universities make sure that all the relevant departments are aware of these arrangements and also distribute this news far and wide in their own national and international networks. UUKi has published a briefing note that details the agreed arrangement which universities are free to use in supporting the distribution of the message that the UK is in these programmes until the end. The UK Government also published an overview of UK participation on Horizon 2020 with Q&A that can be distributed as well.

How has UUK been helping the sector to navigate these challenges?

As well as providing the most up to date information to the UK sector we’ve spent a lot of time working with our counterpart organisations around Europe. Since the referendum, we have substantially increased our bilateral engagement across the continent. We have organised high-level delegations with Vice-Chancellors to France, Poland, Switzerland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy. And there are still more delegations to come. We also frequently travel to Brussels, for both high-level and policy level meetings. It’s crucial for us to understand the mood in the EU member states and in Brussels. We relay the information we gather on these trips back to the UK Government and use it to inform our own activities. For example, recently we heard from that the UK Government’s position on Erasmus was unclear from multiple stakeholders in Brussels. We subsequently wrote to Higher Education Minister Sam Gyimah addressing this issue and have also spoken to the new Director-General for Education and Culture at the European Commission to underline the sector’s commitment to the programme and relay the latest positive statement Minister Sam Gyimah had made; that the Government want the option to participate.

One very positive observation is that through this increased engagement we have seen an enormous amount of goodwill from our counterparts around Europe. They see the added value of international collaboration and emphasise again and again how important it is that the UK stays a full member of higher education and research programmes.

How can the government ensure universities maximise their contribution to a globally-successful UK?

In addition to negotiating full access to both Erasmus and Horizon Europe, and building an immigration system that allows universities to attract global talent, there are several other things the UK Government needs to do to allow UK universities to maximise their contribution to a globally-successful UK. The Government should enhance support for international research collaboration with both European and non-European partners, with a focus on delivering excellent research. This should include substantial support for inbound and outbound mobility in the form of travel grants, fellowship and workshops. The government should also provide greater support to facilitate outward student mobility. The UK lags behind its competitors when it comes to participation in student exchange, while evidence shows that students who go abroad at least once during their degree are 32% less likely to be unemployed and more likely to be in a graduate job. Universities UK would also like to see a continuation of the mutual recognition of professional qualifications, allowing graduates to pursue their career in an EU member state. Further, the Government needs to maximise international opportunities for UK higher education and research through free trade agreements with key non-EU partners.