"Sorry everyone, but we need to talk about Brexit."

Vivienne Stern

Vivienne Stern

Universities UK International

Sick of Brexit? Sick of talking about it, and hearing about it, and still being none the wiser about what it all means? Me too.

Sadly though, we have to talk about it. We are moving towards yet another ‘crunch’ week in UK parliament. And although there are politicians on all sides trying to block a no-deal exit, the work to plan for one has taken on a new seriousness both in government and in the university sector.

The future of the UK’s participation in the Erasmus+ program is a case in point.

At the end of January the UK government issued a technical note on the Erasmus+ programme in the case of a no-deal Brexit. The good news is that students on current placements will be able to continue, and receive funding, to their end.

However, although the government has said they would like to stay in the Erasmus+ programme for future calls if the EU will agree, it is now clear that if they don’t succeed in securing this, there will be no national alternative to enable students to study abroad in Europe. If we lose Erasmus, there will be no scheme to replace it.

In addition to our direct engagement with relevant ministers and officials, we have responded by launching the #SupportStudyAbroad social media campaign to highlight and amplify public support for study abroad, and encourage the government to commit to funding study abroad programs in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

We invite you to join us by tweeting your support for study abroad and highlighting the positive impact it has on young lives. We’re particularly keen to hear the stories of students and alumni who have studied, worked or volunteered abroad.

I simply don’t know what the position will be on March 29, but I do know that two days earlier I’ll be meeting with 400 international higher education colleagues at our annual gathering of those who lead on international strategies in the UK’s universities, joined by counterparts from around the world.

Deal or no deal we will have plenty to talk about. We have gathered a panel of some of the leaders of our European counterpart organisations – from Norway, Poland, Spain and Austria – to discuss how we will make the hand we have been dealt work for education and research. If it is ‘no-deal’ we’ll talk about how universities on both sides of the channel are preparing themselves. How will we protect the interests of our students who are abroad – either UK students in Europe, or European students with us? How will we overcome new bureaucratic hurdles, like immigration rules; changes in legal status and the challenge of re-establishing old partnerships on a new basis?

If there is a deal, we’ll be talking about how to make the transition work; and what prospects there are of securing the UK’s longer-term participation in European programmes. We’ll be discussing whether, despite all the good will across Europe, we’d be naive to think that we can carry on as before, at the heart of the European research and education landscape.

Either way we’ll hear from a major ESRC-funded research project on how UK universities have been preparing themselves for the challenges ahead. And perhaps most importantly of all, over coffee, in the margins of the conference, we’ll be providing opportunities for our universities to share their own experiences, plans and strategies with each other.

So, although I am heartily sick of talking about Brexit, I am glad we have the opportunity to take stock at this critical moment in our history. I hope you will join us.



The International Higher Education Forum will take place on 27 March at Imperial College London, with a drinks reception on the evening of March 26.

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