Brexit, trade, migration and higher education

Status: Finalised
Period: June 2017–November 2018 

The ESRC-funded research project focuses on the responses of UK higher education institutions (HEIs) to Brexit and associated challenges, including the development of initiatives outside Europe. For example, challenges include international student recruitment and attracting and retaining EU nation staff.  The research will consist of institution-level case studies in a selected group of HEIs. The project research questions are as follows:

1. What are the perceived implications of Brexit for UK HEIs as leaders and others see it?
2. What are the principal responses of HEIs and what are their capabilities to monitor, judge, strategise, respond, initiate and make internal changes, in relation to Brexit?
3. How do these factors vary by UK nation; HEI mission, status, resources; and discipline?


UK universities are extensively engaged in Europe, in collaborative research and infrastructure and through EU citizen staff and students. The UK’s departure from the EU has many potential consequences for UK universities and their staffing, research, international education and financial sustainability.

Whatever form Brexit takes, it is likely to disrupt existing projects, networks and activities and could imply sharp reductions in staff, students and/or income, in some or all universities. Universities will need to make rapid and well-judged adjustments, build new relations and activity portfolios in Europe and beyond, and grapple with challenges to human resource management, risk management, financial sustainability, mission, governance and local implementation systems.

The project will use empirical data to identify and better understand the specific challenges faced by the UK’s higher education sector. It will focus on the capacity of UK universities to respond to these challenges, alongside the other changes during this period in regulatory structures, immigration policy, the management of teaching performance and the entry of new providers.


The EAIE has named Leasa Weimer, Knowledge Development Adviser, to participate in the project advisory committee. A social science research project such as this requires an advisory committee that combines intellectual acumen with pragmatic wisdom and deep knowledge of higher education and of the relevant policy issues. The project advisory committee will be an active group and will meet 4-5 times during the life of the project, as well as being consulted from time to time between meetings, for example when draft research findings are produced. This will be a lively project in an area central to the health and fortunes of the sector.

Project partners

Project coordinator: Centre for Global Higher Education (CGHE)

Project team from CGHE: The project will be led by CGHE Director Professor Simon Marginson from the UCL Institute of Education, with CGHE Deputy Director William Locke from the UCL Institute of Education and Dr. Vassiliki Papatsiba from the University of Sheffield as Co-Investigators. Dr Ludovic Highman is the postdoc researcher for the project.

Advisory Committee:
• Other organisations to be confirmed