Live updates from today’s conference, featuring an excellent panel of speakers and some fascinating discussion about leaving the European Union and higher education. Find the full agenda here.
Live updates from today’s conference, featuring an excellent panel of speakers and some fascinating discussion about leaving the European Union and higher education. Find the full agenda here.
You can read some of the presentations from Tuesday, and we will be uploading more as we are able.
That concludes our event today and our guests are now chatting away over drinks. Thank you to everyone who followed the live blog. We hope to upload some of the presentations from our panelists so those who could not make it can catch up. The discussions about HE and Brexit will now continue for many months and years to come.
We finish up with Sonal Minocha, who is arguing that Brexit can be a real wake-up call for the sector to expand its imagination about what it can achieve in a global world beyond the EU. UK higher education can be more internationalist than ever. Universities can be more about mobility than ever more. It’s time to get on with it!
We have a question that wishes to underline how the sector must plan for the massive strategic loss of funding and participation in EU research. Tricia is asked how UK institutions will protect themselves against international competitors who might want to poach projects that want to move to other countries in the EU, such as the EU Graphene Flagship project.
Sonal highlights that UK universities have lost business internationally before, but manage to find more new opportunities. However, the dangers can be mitigated by more collaboration within the sector.
Someone from the floor reminds us words from Graeme Wise earlier: there will be substantial pressure on other countries’ higher education sector’s as a result of Brexit. Not everyone will be in a position to pounce.
We now have Beth Button, former President of NUS Wales and today representing the European Students’ Union.
Beth tells us that today’s students and today’s young people are indeed angry and indeed disillusioned, but that higher education should not be afraid of this; rather harness it in the cause of civic engagement and civic action. Universities need to collaborate with the new wave of student social action and political involvement; they need to facilitate it.
Beth suggests that universities have too often been fearful of being political. The referendum campaign was refreshing to see universities take a public and principled stance on an issue. Perhaps the cynicism to universities’ stance on the campaign was because historically the sector has only spoken up on issues in which it has a stake. The campaign should not make the sector afraid of being vocal, whatever the backlash. It’s time to double down on this new political consciousness.
Beth argues there was an absolute lack of youth voice during the campaign, even from the Remain side. Universities had a positive role to play in giving young people a political platform during the campaign – let’s hope this continues.
Beth tells us that the European Students’ Union is more determined than ever to campaign for collective student interests and for collaboration and cooperation across Europe. References the ‘Bergen declaration’, and a quote from a former NUS president: “If the students of today are collaborating, then there’s hope for tomorrow”.
We’re onto our final panel of the day, thinking about how UK higher education will now engage with the rest of the world.
First of all, Tricia King from CASE. She goes through some images that perhaps describe the state of the place after the Brexit: House of Cards? The concluding scene from Hamlet?
How does UK HE explain all this to global HE leaders outside the UK? There is real shock, anxiety and curiosity about why Brexit has happened outside the UK. But at the same time, global competitors are getting ready to make the most of it. They are preparing to take the UK’s slice of students and researchers, but also to find new ways of collaboration with UK higher education. There are some reasons to be cheerful.
The UK isn’t the only place where disruption is taking place. In Europe, with the rise of the far right. In the USA, with Donald Trump. Nothing that UK universities go through can really be compared to the upheaval faced by universities in Africa and Latin America. There is student unrest and unhappiness everywhere.
Universities have seen anxiety and anger and disruption before, but they weather it. There are good reasons to have faith in the higher education community getting through it all.
Furthermore, universities in the regions of the world with some of the most disruptive environments and wider climates set themselves the highest and most noble missions, particularly in places like Latin America. Brexit can induce UK higher education to clarify its purpose and its narrative, and to be on the front foot with its communications and messages. It’s all to play for.
We have Pollyannas, and we have Eeors. It’s time for Pollyannas!
We have some pressure for the panel to focus more on the positives of Brexit. What will universities do to be stronger than ever?
Huw suggests that the pressure of Brexit might push universities into new areas and think of new spheres in which they can be successful: more diverse courses, areas of work, and flexible forms of degree provision.
Joy also emphasises the need to redouble on the ‘new’: new collaborative projects; new overseas partners; new student groups; new forms of specialism and new ways of organising.
More discussion about the “civic university”. Deirdre Heenan makes an excellent points that the term can mean ten different things: is it about widening participation, or outreach, or influencing policy, or researching social inequalities, or expanding part-time and accessible provision? It’s a very diverse idea.
Huw Morris went on a tour of constituencies that voted Leave – points out that many concerns of universities during the campaign sound completely remote to many Leave communities such as Ebbw Vale. Reflects on Toynbee Hall in East London – universities used to fund initiatives like this in working-class communities, and teachers would go there and teach for free. There was a zealous social mission, far more ambitious perhaps than what we’ve become accustomed to today.
Joy Carter tells an anecdote of a vice chancellor being asked by an MP what their university’s strategy for civic engagement was. Their response: “it happens by osmosis”.
Professor Joy Carter, Vice Chancellor of the University of Winchester, argues that personalised communication, particularly with EU staff and students, is absolutely vital to the rebuilding process post Brexit. Engaging with all communities in which universities have a stake, not forgetting alumni, should begin the healing and rebuilding work the sector needs to do to succeed.
Huw Morris, Director of Skills, Higher Education and Lifelong Learning in the Welsh Government, emphasises that Brexit is far from the only challenge facing the higher education sector over the coming years: TEF, inflation, debt, and the graduate labour market will all have a deep impact. Institutions would be planning for these issues in any case.
However, with Brexit, there are so many options and ways that the country could go that it’s very very difficult to plan ahead. EEC, EFTA, WTO all possibilities, as well as our future relationships with the European Research Area and the European Higher Education Area. Beyond that, there are new options for institutional strategies: down-lining on offers, or sidelining into growth areas such as apprenticeships and non-EU markets. We might see a lot more of HE-in-FE and perhaps even FE-in-HE. There will be pressure for further specialisation, which all UK governments have already shown they are keen to push as a way of extracting efficiency.
Our Assistant Director Ant Bagshaw will be our host this afternoon. We begin with Professor Deirdre Heenan, Provost at Ulster University.
“We don’t really know what has happened” – Deirdre echoes comments from Jonathan Simons earlier today. The Prime Minister says that Brexit means Brexit, but we’ve really know idea what it really means. In Northern Ireland, this presents a particular challenge: uncertainty about the province’s relationship with the Republic of Ireland, and by extension the EU, is very very dangerous.
Northern Ireland voted to Remain, but the largest party, the DUP, campaigned to Leave – probably because it was perceived by some Unionists that Nationalist communities had benefited more from being part of the EU. Sinn Fein have said that Brexit should open the door to a united Ireland – all this could shake the province’s uneasy coalition government.
Northern Ireland is particularly affected because it is a periphery region – being small means that the relative impact of Brexit is larger. EU structural and investment funding is massively important to Northern Ireland, and much goes to universities. Northern Ireland is the only UK nation already disinvesting in higher education prior to the Brexit vote. All told – it’s a bleak picture.
An old phrase in Ireland is that “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity”. The Republic of Ireland will be competing hard for a slice of UK universities’ students, researchers and research funding, as well as other sectors such finance. Whether this is a good thing probably depends on the community in Northern Ireland from which you originate. Northern Irish universities believe they are part of the region and have a vital civic mission – it’s needed now more than ever.
Lunch is concluded and we are back up and running until 4.30pm.
We finish before lunch with the thoughts of Graeme Wise (by name and nature), who recounts some of the discussions from this morning. His main points:
On the whole, it could be worse: we could still be in Europe. Brexit will hurt the EU as much, if not more, than Britain. The far-right is extraordinarily strong in many European countries; recession is looming in Italy and other countries; our withdrawal will be a massive hit to the EU budget and its power as a trading bloc.
Do not fall into the trap of treating Brexit as the paradigm impact factor on higher education for the next two decades. There are deeper changes afoot: technology, the labour market, digital learning, big data and more.
These are all on the horizon, but so is lunch. We will be back in an hour.
A good point is raised from the floor about considering outward mobility and outward streams of funding. These mustn’t be lost amidst all the concern about the inward flows of students, funding and researchers. Erasmus will be a significant loss for the UK higher education sector and perhaps new collaborative exchange programmes need to be developed and expanded with non-EU countries?
A point is also raised that Brexit presents a real risk, along with the reforms to UKRI and REF, of increase concentration of research funding in the Russell Group and also London and the south east of England. James Wilsdon agrees that is a very real and very obvious risk: when resources are tight, money might flow to those who already have it. Claire Craig argues that that there is a lot to play for here in the detailed passage of the HE Bill and the formation of UKRI.
Next up is Claire Craig, Director of Science Policy at the Royal Society.
The most important message to emphasise is the cliche: “the UK is open for business”, especially in science. But in the longer term, this will have to be facilitated. First of all, there need to be arrangements to allow scientists to collaborate between the UK and the EU and the UK and the rest of the world. Secondly, diversity of funding structures needs to be maintained in someway: EU funding was important in ensuring science funding had a wide variety of sources.
Claire argues that the core message the government should hear from the sector is that science is pivotal to all areas of government policy: trade, exports, industry, diplomacy, energy and more. This goes beyond chief scientific advisors – academics needs to continue to have input into all policy areas.
On UKRI and the upcoming reforms to the research infrastructure, there must be great care taken with the implementation of these reforms. The can be constructive, but must not be destructive.
Finally on our panel, we have Alixe Bovey from the Courtauld Institute of Art. “You don’t hear often from the art history lobby”, she opines. Bovey makes the first mention of the small matter of the Stern Review as an important contextual matter for the coming years in the research community.
The economic and cultural issues at stake in Brexit have a disproportionate effect on postgraduate students and postgraduate communities, particularly in the arts and humanities. The competition will intensify for RCUK (soon to be UKRI) funding, but the overall loss for arts and humanities will be less compared to natural sciences and social sciences which are far more dependent on EU funding and cross-border collaboration.
Overnight, the UK became a less appealing place for international researchers to develop a career. Attracting and retaining people will be incredibly difficult: the UK has embarrassed itself to the international community of academia, particularly in arts and humanities. The UK has accidentally engaged in a PR campaign for xenophobia and intolerance.
For humanities researchers themselves, Brexit poses interesting questions for new research, particularly about the cultural causes and effects of Brexit. Do we really understand the interrelationship between culture, history, art and literature that has led to a climate conducive to Brexit?
We move onto our next panel, who will discuss research and science policy specifically. Professor James Wilsdon of the University of Sheffield opens, with a particular focus on the challenges for the social sciences.
James opens on the four prime challenges ahead: funding, collaboration, freedom of movement, and regaining trust for expertise and research. James hopes that UKRI and the research councils will give thought to these challenges, particularly the latter.
One interesting aspect of the Brexit campaign was the emergence of “astroturf” organisations like Scientist for Britain, which he argues got disproportionate media coverage compared to established organisations like the Royal Society. There are now new groups claiming to represent UK science and researchers – this is a challenge to established lobbyists.
It’s going to be very difficult to quantify the effect of lost potential funding rather than actual lost funding. The opportunities not grasped are difficult to account for and present to ministers.
Another absolute non-starter is maintaining free-movement for scientists in order to keep up participation in Horizon 2020, whilst restricting freedom of movement elsewhere. Jean-Claude Junker’s right-hand man answered this with a clear “no”.
Finally, James points out that leading figures, including Martin Rees, will try and use the upheaval of Brexit as an argument to postpone or cancel the upcoming reforms to the research councils and wider research infrastructure. John Kingman and Jo Johnson are determined to push ahead with this.
Lots of talk of tightropes and balancing in our questions from the audience. The new government will have to balance competing pressures and make choices. The sector will have to balance competing imperatives in its lobbying efforts. There seems to be a lot of places where the sector might fall off.
All that said, as Jonathan stresses, there are rarely absolute binaries in politics; or rather, politicians are loath to believe that there are absolute binaries. It’s not simply a choice between controlling immigration or boosting the economy.
We now move on to higher education moving under the umbrella of the Department for Education. Alistair says he is “quite relaxed” about this change, and that UUK will make it work. Universities are used to being moved around departments and so will adjust. Jonathan says he believes it is broadly the correct move, though there are pros and cons. In the short-term, moving the deckchairs is a distraction and a hassle and will take a while to settle down. In the longer-term though, it should be a net benefit. Crucially, Justine Greening and Greg Clark can be powerful advocates for the sector in the cabinet, and Jo Johnson can do the day-to-day work on policy.
Now Jonathan Simons, former no. 10 insider and Head of Education at Policy Exchange.
He highlights three risks to the universities’ lobbying of government. The overall message: “don’t ask to keep 80% of what you had”. You will get nowhere.
The three risks:
The correct strategy is to fit into the “Daniel Hannan narrative” – a whiggish idea of Britainnia unchained, strong in the world with a global outlook. Some giggles in the room at this, but as Jonathan says, that is the view of the world we are left with.
Some further tips:
Alistair outlines the immediate challenges for universities over the next few years. UUK are pressing for priority issues including:
But beyond the immediate negotiations, there are wider politics to negotiate through the Brexit process. David Davis and Liam Fox are two key figures in this process, as is Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator.
Three new buzzwords will keep cropping up: exports, immigration and industrial strategy.
Alistair finishes with 10 thoughts on maximising universities’ influence:
We are back from our break.
And we kick off with Alistair Jarvis, Deputy Chief Exec of UUK and “chief spinner” for the HE sector. Our discussion will move onto what universities need to do now to make the most of the Brexit process.
After a fantastic discussion, we will now take a brief break.
Matthew argues that Peter Mandleson and Tony Blair were “the architects of Brexit”, and that the major issues that caused Brexit were legacies of New Labour: the idea of a referendum, relying on globalisation, ignoring the working-class, and failing to have a transition period for immigration during EU expansion.
Andy was a special advisor in the New Labour years and notes that Mandleson, among others, have acknowledged some of these problems to an extent.
We have a question about the lack of trust for universities in a ‘post-facts’ world. The Remain side, including universities, were too statistical, too dry and did not make inroads in a positive case for the European Union. Everyone knew the arguments for Leave, but not enough people understood the pro-EU arguments, and could be convinced by them, but the trust had not been built. Universities need to integrate the building up of political goodwill into their strategies – how does that align with continuing to be world-leading?
Universities’ core audience were already on-board with the pro-EU message: staff, students and graduates. But the completely inability to reach beyond that should be of some concern. Universities were lumped in with other experts and other interest groups in one lump of ‘self-interested elites’.
Matthew recounts a debate in Newcastle during the campaign where an economist talking about the impact of Brexit on GDP was rebuffed by a member of the audience with “that’s your GDP, not ours”.
An important question is asked about the attitudes of the Prime Minister and her advisers towards higher education. The new PM has previously suggested that universities should find a new business model that does not rely on international students and immigration, and also stated her unwillingness to bend to university lobbyists.
Andy suggests we route through the back catalogue of Nick Timothy, her chief advisor. It all points towards necessitating a new business model for universities, but beyond that, a fully new model. Universities need to be part of the one-nation story and part of the answer to the problems that the new PM has stated she wants to solve. “She might not like us”, but she might find us useful, argues Andy.
Andy Westwood opens by reflecting on the “containment” problem that is preoccupying the minds of higher education leaders: research grants, student numbers, state funding, subsidies. But really, it is just too important for universities not to forget the wider issues highlighted by Smita and Matthew.
Universities were not relevant, not central to the discussion, and too self-interested during the debate. The sector has proven itself to be not “accessible, relevant or trusted”, to use Smita’s words. Or at least, it has not been enough of those things.
The two are critically related. Universities will not succeed in the post-Brexit scramble is they are not viewed as accessible, relevant and trusted. Those who voted for Brexit are not convinced about the merits of universities, immigration, and the knowledge economy.
To take an example, Andy points out that in Greater Manchester, 3 local authorities voted Remain, and 7 voted Leave. Recent research found that since the recession 60,000 new net jobs had been created in Greater Manchester, but all of them in the 3 areas that voted Remain. None in the areas that voted Leave. That should be a challenge addressed by Manchester’s universities.
The sector too often looks like it is trying to avoid the world around us. Asking to exempt students from net-migration sounds like we are trying to exist in a separate world, insulated from the wider societal problems afflicting the entire country.
We are now joined by Smita Jamdar, the higher education sector’s chief legal thinker, and Andy Westwood, professional panel member, who will respond with their reflections on the implications for universities.
Smita opens by musing on the importance of universities’ mission and obligations to their local areas. This is stated in most universities’ founding charters: they were created to bring higher education to their local area. But universities’ focus is increasingly national and international, with pressures from TEF, REF, rankings and recruitment. Has the local region been forgotten by higher education?
This must go beyond the odd collaboration with a LEP and an outreach project here and there. If more universities were more proactive and delivered for their local regions, would we have seen the sort of division described by Matthew that led to Brexit? This isn’t just fluffy: Brexit has cost the sector a lot of money.
Brexit has shown us that failing to tackle societal inequalities has cost universities dear. It is not matter of legal and regulatory compliance: it is in universities’ self-interest. Much of the focus might be on universities’ duties as educators, but there is also an imperative in research and wider policy making.
All this is not to say that internationalism should be forgotten. Far, far from it. Brexit showed that international problems are, to many in the UK, a distraction or an irrelevance. This has to change, and universities have a vital role in connecting the local and the regional to the global and international.
The challenge for universities, going forward, is to be accessible, relevant and trusted. Perhaps that will put our broken society back together again.
In running an exit poll on the day, Matthew points out that Leave voters were far more likely to vote early on the day. “They couldn’t wait to vote Leave”. Evidence shows that increasing numbers of people have believed that the government does not represent them and does not have their interests at heart. A substantial proportion of the population is alienated and angry.
Matthew says he does not believe that the government can afford to negotiate an agreement that doesn’t clamp down on free movement. David Davis is clearly willing to ensure that little compromise is made on this issue, even if it damages the economy. Public opinion matters too much on immigration, and polling indicates people are willing to take a hit on the economy in order to control borders.
We also have an interesting question about grammar schools and the importance of education policy in the post-Brexit UK.
Matthew finishes with reflections on the political future. The evidence suggests “it is almost impossible to imagine anything other than a Conservative majority government at the next election”.
To stand a chance of winning a majority at the next election, Labour needs to be 14 points ahead of the Conservatives. They are currently 12 points behind. Matthew also predicts that many former UKIP voters will revert to the Conservatives, costing Labour several seats that they lost to Labour in 2015.
When asked about why they voted Leave, respondents overwhelmingly responded about immigration. When asked about why they voted Remain, respondents overwhelmingly mentioned the economy.
Immigration and sovereignty were often mentioned in the same breath by Leave voters and became proxies for each other.
Immigration has been a bit paradoxical in understanding the debate, because areas with the most immigration voted to Remain, and areas with the least immigration voted to Leave. HOWEVER, what did predict voting behaviour was the change in the percentage of EU nationals living in an area over the last 10 years.
Local authorities with a significant increase in EU migration in the last 10 years were the most likely to vote Leave; Boston, Lincolnshire, is the archetypal example.
The vote was strongly divided along class, geography and age lines. Since Britain’s transition into a post-industrial service-based economy, two groups have formed, between those who have adapted and thrived on the new economy, and those who have suffered the most in the transition.
Those who have adapted and succeeded in the new economy are also more socially liberal and more welcoming of substantial social change. Those who have been left behind are sceptical of social liberalism and wary of rapid social change.
But most importantly, above all other factors, education was the biggest predictor of voting behaviour.
Support for Remain by educational level ranged from 18% for those with no formal education, 28% with primary school education, 36% with secondary school education, 57% with a degree, 64% with a postgraduate qualification.
Amongst those currently in full-time education, 81% supported Remain.
When controlled for by regression analysis, support for Leave was 30 percentage points higher among those with GCSE qualifications or below than those with a university degree. By contrast, income divides only accounted for a 10 percentage point difference. Education mattered more than income.
Professor Matthew Goodwin of the University of Kent is beginning. Matthew is an expert on UKIP and the rise of Euroscepticism in Britain.
“It wasn’t close” – he tells us. Brexit had a commanding majority in a very large number of areas. An estimated 421 parliamentary constituencies voted Leave, but only 148 MPs did. This was the first moment in British political history that the will of Parliament is being overridden by the will of the people. 7 out of 10 Labour constituencies voted Leave, as did 8 out of 10 Conservative seats.
The Leave vote ranged from a peak 76% in Boston to 21% in Lambeth.
And we’re off. Mark Leach, our Director and Editor in Chief, is opening conference and taking us through the programme for the day.
We will be discussing the aftermath of the campaign, the impact on universities, the impact on science and research, and the implications for UK HE’s internationalism.
You can follow the #BreHExit hashtag on Twitter as well as this live blog. For those wondering, BrHExit is pronounced with a silent ‘H’, like in Wonkhe. “Brexit means Brexit” is banned for the day as useless cliche.
Since June 25th Wonkhe has been full of contributions and articles trying to summarise the impact of Brexit on UK higher education.
You can catch up on all this coverage on our Brexit tag.
This morning we feature a new contribution from Tom Frostick of Universities Alliance, on the importance of EU structural funding to universities and why it should be maintained in some form post-Brexit.
Good morning. We’re very excited about what should be a packed day of debate and discussion.
Our speakers today are: