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What will Brexit mean for UK universities, higher education, students and academics?

Statistics published in 2015 by Universities UK suggested there are 125,000 EU students at UK universities, and 14 per cent academic staff come from other EU nations.

Combined they generated more than £2.2bn for the economy, and creating 19,000 jobs.

Research funding from Brussels is worth £1bn a year, boosting the quality of research, benefiting the economy and helping British academics to tap into a continent-wide pool of knowledge, according to Universities UK.

Three weeks after the UK voted to leave the EU, the result sent shockwaves through educational institutions as much as businesses and political establishments. They are seeking assurances and better ways to navigate the volatility and uncertainty.

International and EU students, often the lifeblood and funding of UK institutions, is a cause for concern, if this route becomes locked down or limited. Most operate on the philosophy of openness, diversity and internationalism and the worries are fraught with emotional implications as well as financial.

An example of the impact is shown through Cambridge University’s figures and Head of the University, Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, who is calling for clarity over immigration. About 10 percent of Cambridge’s undergraduates and almost a fifth of postgraduate students are from other EU countries, while European citizens make up about a quarter of the university’s 1,666 academics.

Professors, Chancellors and Deans from around the world have taken to the media and social means to voice their opinion about the potential consequences of Brexit. Bill Boulding, Dean of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, shared a strong message on LinkedIn about the need to foster leaders from within, with a global perspective and ability to understand the impact of events in other parts of the world, in order to survive and manage it. He concludes in his article:

“Fear carried the day in the Brexit vote because the value of global access to ideas, people and markets trumpeted by business leaders and academics was ignored. The majority of voters did not trust this "establishment" perspective. Thus, business schools must also recognize a responsibility to produce business leaders and insights that will be trusted. We currently face a trust gap that must be closed.

What happens in one part of the world will impact the rest of us. It is essential business schools develop leaders with the power to appreciate different perspectives and find the common ground that will get us to a better place. It’s a mindset we need now more than ever.”

This follows the sentiment, that despite the ‘chaos’, ‘shock’ and uncertainty, although not a vote they wished for, working to address the significant and immediate challenges and opportunities is key for them.

The initial calamity has turned and business schools and higher education are now focused on creating its own positive destiny, not becoming a victim of it. Recently, our article on business schools’ optimism, even suggests that institutions remain attractive (to non-Europeans) due to the weaker pound.

Dame Julia Goodfellow, Vice Chancellor of the University of Kent, recently wrote in the Telegraph that:

“Promotion the values that make British universities the best in the world. We are best when we are outward looking, globally networked and welcoming to the world. As institutions, we are resilient and adaptable. We must now seek and create new opportunities, drawing on our significant strengths and values. We must seek clarity amid the confusion, provide reassurance to students and staff and consider what support and policy changes British universities need to continue to thrive outside the European Union.”

At the Financial Times, commerciality, leadership and sharp business acumen skills are ones that are highly valued, thoroughly researched and supported within our educational client environments. And now more than ever, we hope to continue supporting universities in uncertain times. A trusted guide for navigating the post-brexit world, staying ahead, anticipating risks and spotting opportunities will be key and the new lifeblood for universities.

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