Bracing for Brexit

Bracing for Brexit EAIE Forum

The unfolding story of Brexit has been cause for significant reflection for all who work in international education in Europe. From partnerships, to mobility, to personal perspectives from those most affected, the 2019 issue of Summer Forum delves into our current moment in the ongoing Brexit saga, its effects on internationalisation so far, and practitioners’ thoughts on bracing for the uncertainties of the future.

Since UK voters voted ‘yes’ to leaving the European Union on 23 June 2016, initial disbelief within many institutions of higher learning has given way to a weary acceptance of a set of new political norms in society. We appear to have entered a new world in which once ‘great’ countries are now floundering, despite the reassurance of centuries of parliamentary tradition, and where universities, home to countless ‘experts’, are increasingly seen as being part of the problem, rather than a key element of the solution.

Brexit therefore poses a fairly existential threat to universities in the UK itself, but what does it mean for universities in other countries in Europe and beyond? What lies ahead for the collaborative initiatives which international educators in Europe hold dear, from student mobility and curriculum alignment to research collaboration and the mobility of academic staff?

A diversity of perspectives

In this issue of Forum magazine, we have sought to collate a range of different perspectives on Brexit, from the United Kingdom and further afield, from individuals and from associations, from experts and from practitioners. We are delighted that Professor Sir Anton Moscatelli, Principal of the University of Glasgow, agreed to be interviewed for this issue. In addition to his role at the University of Glasgow, Professor Moscatelli is Chair of the UK’s Russell Group of universities and a member of the Scottish Government’s Standing Council on Europe. His interview therefore provides a fascinating insight into the evolving political situation within the UK and the responses which have been formulated.

Other UK authors (including Vivienne Stern, Director of Universities UK International) look to the future relationship between UK institutions and their European partners, with reflections on new opportunities for partnerships in research. Beyond the UK, contributions from Ireland, Spain, the Netherlands and India all seek to shed light on different aspects of Brexit and its likely effect on higher education. Spain is the European country with the single largest population of UK citizens, whilst Ireland shares not only historical colonial ties with the UK, but also a land border between the Republic and Northern Ireland. As such, these contributions frame important considerations for the future of collaboration with the UK in international education.

Although the final shape and form of Brexit are not yet fixed, and the ‘soap opera’ of British politics continues, most international education practitioners in Europe have now mapped out a range of scenarios for their work against both a ‘hard’ (otherwise known as ‘no-deal’) Brexit and a ‘soft’ Brexit negotiated in tandem with the European Union. In particular, guidance has been issued and re-issued to staff and students on the likely continuation of EU funding to support mobility to and from, and research with, the UK.

Preparing for the future

For me, Brexit continues to be enormously challenging both personally and professionally. Born in Britain, but now living in Ireland after spending nearly 20 years in Australia, I very much consider myself to be a global citizen. I hold an undergraduate degree in French from a UK university and subsequently took Masters qualifications in French institutions. I now work in a globally-focused outward-looking role in international education, where national boundaries have little meaning and national identity is not a unitary construct. From my conversations with other EAIE members, I know that many others share my concerns. We worry that Brexit represents a certain failure of the internationalisation of higher education in the UK, and wonder whether this might eventually happen in other countries too.

With this issue of Forum, our intention has been to provide new and practical insights on working in European international higher education in a post-Brexit context. Perhaps we will also provide some reassurance to those who are directly affected by Brexit (in terms of residency and work rights). Although we are now three years since the original Brexit vote in the UK, there is evidently still a long way to go before the true ramifications of Brexit are clear. As such, while we wait for Brexit to run its full course, we trust that this issue will provide some solace along the way.

Summer Forum is here!

One way or another, Brexit will have an impact on our work in international higher education. Download the full issue to read about how practitioners across Europe are bracing for Brexit.

Douglas Proctor
University College Dublin, IrelandIn addition to being Director of International Affairs at University College Dublin, Douglas is also Chair of the EAIE Publications Committee and Editor of Forum.