In the first part of this programme, Dr Simon Mabon, a lecturer in International Relations in the Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion at Lancaster University, and David Lindsay, a writer and editor of the influential blog, The Lanchester Review, debate some of the key issues.
Can the UK education system survive without the money we receive from the EU? David Lindasy said the answer is yes, as the money we receive from the EU is only a part of the money we put in. Plenty of countries such as China and the USA have a very strong educational basis without being part of the EU. Research culture is effectively global. Dr Mabon does not agree, arguing that the UK receives much more than it puts in. However, the main point that Dr Mabon makes is that we stand to lose an international culture of learning and research because of the special academic environment within our educational institutions; a culture of a confluence of ideas of people from all types of backgrounds… as soon as we debate this issue, a number of staff become concerned about whether they will be able to continue their jobs in my department, for example. If staff have to apply for a visa every year, some of them will move elsewhere where pay and conditions are better.
David Lindsay then stressed that this is exactly the point; that people come to the UK for a very specific collegiate atmosphere, and that they will always do so, regardless of whether the UK is in the EU or not. But, as Dr Mabon argues, it is not just the number of students that we are concerned about, it is the type of students! This means, Dr Mabon said, that only students from a certain background will come, if we leave. My university in Lancaster, for example, he said, is one of those universities that strives on students who aren’t necessarily from the most affluent backgrounds, but really want to push themselves. David Lindsay pointed out that there were no undergraduate tuition fees charged by this country for about a generation, and there is no reason to assume that they will be increased after leaving.
In the second part of the programme, Vivienne Stern, Director of Universities UK International Unit sees the prospect of Brexit as being a disaster for UK universities. We are lucky in the UK, she said, because we have some of the strongest universities in the world, but that is partly because we collaborate with European universities. John Harrison argued that if we were to leave we would have access to significantly more non-EU experts, and open up even more sources of knowledge and excellence. Vivienne replied:
I would love to think that Brexit would change the mind of Theresa May on visa policies, but I can’t really see that happening. Although it is not either/or, our position by leaving the EU would not improve.
At present, Vivienne said, 15% of our academic staff come from Europe, 5% of students, and 60% of collaborations on a university-university basis are with EU universities.
But by 2020, John Harrison suggested, 90% of STERN graduates will be from outside the EU. Do we want to be isolationists or ‘little Europeans’ when the UK’s competitors are not so much in Europe, but in the USA or Asia. Vivienne replied that she sees that as a fantastic argument to remain in the EU, because the UK alone cannot really do that much in comparison to the scale of work being carried out in the States or in Asia.
John Harrison argued: But we are a unique country with 1% of the world’s population, but 15% of the world’s published scientific papers. There is an argument that we have become innate because we depend on the mother ship of the EU too much. Vivienne agreed, but the main reason we are punching above our weight is that we produce a far higher percentage of co-authored papers than in other countries. Countries outside the EU can take advantage of Horizon 2020 programmes, but at great disadvantage. They lose the possibility to influence the strategy of these programmes from inside the EU. Swiss universities can no longer, for example, be the lead universities in research projects.