Brexit impact on universities could damage economy, report says

9 December 2016

The effects of Brexit on international staff and students could cause long term harm to the UK’s economy, the Academy of Social Sciences and its Campaign for Social Science have warned.

In a joint briefing on the impacts of Brexit on the higher education sector, the Academy and Campaign point to the role of the higher education sector as an “engine of economic growth and driver of UK innovation.” Any impact on the higher education sector “will be felt across the UK, with a particular effect on the local and regional economies in which universities reside,” the briefing says.

Dr Ashley Lenihan, Senior Policy Adviser at the Academy and Campaign, said:

“Brexit could mean a loss of income from international students, recruitment and skills gaps from loss of international staff, reduced access to development financing, higher barriers to international collaboration, and lower levels of research funding. All of these factors could have a negative impact on competitiveness, reputation, and health of the UK University sector that helps drive UK regional and national growth.”

The higher education sector created £73 billion for the economy in 2011/2012, according to Universities UK (UUK). These benefits are felt at the regional level as well. In 2013/2014 Welsh universities contributed £4.6 billion in direct and indirect economic outputs and accounted for over 46,000 jobs, while Scottish Universities accounted for £6.67 billion in Gross Value Added (GVA) to the economy in 2012/2013, as well as 142,411 jobs.

Ease of movement means that international students contribute nearly £11 billion, with added benefits to UK regional and local economies. The briefing warns that further reductions in international recruitment as a consequence of Brexit “could not only threaten the economic well-being of UK universities, but also the growth prospects of the economy as a whole.”

A total of 27% of academic staff come from outside the UK, 15% of whom are EU nationals. This demonstrates the importance of international talent in UK universities, and reflects the need to recruit the best and brightest international minds. Restrictions on the freedom of movement could lead to a large skills gap.

In the briefing, the Academy and Campaign set out a series of immediate steps the government could take now to support UK higher education and research, as well as ensuring the long-term benefits they bring to the economy. These include:

  • Developing appropriate visa polices for UK universities and research, if necessary
  • Further pledges to safeguard the fee status and loan eligibility of UK students applying for courses in the 2018/2019 academic year. This would provide the medium-term certainty to universities and students to cover the period before the UK formally leaves the EU
  • Examination by the Department for Education, BEIS and the Home Office of implications for international student visas, to ensure that the UK remains globally open and competitive
  • Continuing to collate real time statistics and evidence of cases of discrimination in collaborations, and actively raising them with the EU commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science
  • Ensuring the participation in the Brexit negotiations of a representative of the UK higher education and science community

Dr Lenihan added:

“The health of UK higher education– and that of the UK economy – relies on our ability to collaborate with European and international partners, and attract the best and brightest to this country. These immediate steps will help maintain the excellence of our universities, while ensuring economic prosperity for the future.”