How might Brexit affect higher education?

This article originally appeared in the Western Mail on Thursday 13 December.

Recently the headlines have been dominated by Brexit and what deal, if any, we are likely to have. The impact of Brexit on higher and further education was recently the focus of an inquiry by the Children, Young People and Education Committee at the National Assembly for Wales. Their report – ‘Degrees of Separation?’ – looked at what Brexit could mean for the staff and students from the EU in Wales, the impact it could have on Welsh students who spend part of their degree in another EU country, and what the loss of EU funding could mean for our students and universities.

The report concludes that a no-deal scenario would be extremely disruptive to higher education in Wales as a result of the engagement of Welsh universities in large scale of international collaborations and partnerships. This matters because universities, and the students and staff who make up our universities, are important parts of the Welsh economy. In 2015/16, Welsh universities generated over £5 billion of output and nearly 50,000 jobs.

One important area is the impact that Brexit could have on the research and innovation work that our universities do here in Wales. The research carried out by Welsh universities has tangible benefits for the people and places of Wales and builds links between Wales and the rest of the world. In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework, Welsh universities were found to have a higher proportion of ‘world-leading’ research in terms of its impact than any other part of the UK.

The breadth of work carried out by our universities includes research that improves our health and develops new treatments for illnesses, work that helps improve our environment and tackle climate change, and new technologies that continue to drive developments in everything from smartphones to electric vehicles.

And while the funding Wales receives for research and innovation from the EU, over £500 million since 2000, is one aspect of the challenge posed by Brexit for Welsh universities, there are also others. This includes the need to continue to attract high quality researchers and the ability to enter into collaborations and partnerships with people and providers across the EU.

The importance of research and innovation to Wales, and the risk that Brexit poses to research and innovation, is why we were pleased to see the Children, Young People and Education Committee’s report endorse the recommendations made by Professor Graeme Reid in his review of Government funded research and innovation. These recommendations include introducing new ways of supporting Welsh universities to secure more funding from UK-wide funding competitions, which would bring additional investment into Wales. Implementing Professor Reid’s recommendations is one vitally important way that Wales can prepare for the future.

At Universities Wales we are committed to ensuring that Wales continues to play a role on the world stage. Global Wales, led by Universities Wales, aims to promote Wales as a study destination and build international partnerships. Part of this includes sharing the great work that our universities do with partners from across the world. Last week, Wales saw a delegation from Vietnam travel across the breadth of Wales learning about the ways in which our universities work with businesses.

This kind of work will grow more important in the coming months and years as we seek to ensure that Welsh universities are able to continue to support their local universities and drive the Welsh economy.


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