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London Institutions to Be Impacted Most by a Brexit Vote

Posted by Richard Ward in

Image courtesy of Flickr, Creative Commons

With the June 23rd referendum on the horizon, many are looking as to what the impact will be should the public vote to leave the European Union. StuRents takes a look at the potential impact on EU students as well as the institutions that rely on them.

Primarily the UK receives funding from the EU via two routes, of which the UK receives the vast majority through what is known as Framework Programme funding.

For the last time period for which data is available, 2007-2013, the UK contributed a total of EUR 5.4bn into the Framework Programme pot for research, development and innovation activities. Meanwhile in return the UK received EUR 8.8bn in funds, indicating that in this area the UK is actually a net beneficiary of EU funding.

Those supportive of the UK's current scheme point to success stories that can be directly related to the programme.

For example, the development of graphene, the world's first 2D material that is 200 times stronger than steel, can be partly be attributed to funding that the University of Manchester received from Brussels back in 2007. Subsequently the team behind the extraordinary material was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2010 for their ground breaking experiments using this pioneering material.

But what about the impact on students?

During the last academic year of 2014-15, the number EU students excluding those from the UK in higher education reached 124,575 or 5.5% of the total full-time student population.

At present EU students are able to benefit from the same fees as those applied to UK students, equating to up to £9,000 per year. However outside of the EU fees can vary substantially from around £3,500 to £18,000 per year, depending on institution and course.

There is no doubt that if the UK were to leave the European Union then students applying to higher education could be exposed to significantly increased fees. With potentially such large fee increases on the horizon EU students may be discouraged from applying to study in the UK altogether.

In fact, the last time that the cap on student fees was raised to the current limit of £9,000 there was a noticeable contraction in the number of full-time EU students in study in the UK.

EU Student Enrolement By University

Source: HESA

During the 2012-13 academic year, following the increase in tuition fees, total EU numbers fell 5.5% to 125,290, following the wider trend across higher education over the same time period. Since then numbers have failed to improve and remain short (-6.02%) of the 132,550 places achieved during 2011-12 when fees were considerably lower.

Although University College London has the greatest total number of EU students enrolled across all higher education institutions, it remains outside of the top 20 in terms of percentage of total enrolment attributed to EU students.

In fact, eight out of the top 10 institutions that have the largest proportion of their total numbers attributed to EU students sit inside London, meaning the capital will be hit hardest by a potential Brexit vote.

Higher Education Enrolment - EU Students

Source: HESA

Equally, of critical importance to some universities is that if the UK were to withdraw from the Schengen Treaty, which allows the free movement of people and goods in the EU, then academics will need to undergo a lengthy and burdensome visa application. This will be of particular concern to our world leading universities such as Oxford, with a sixth of their staff reportedly residing from the EU.

Of course the same will also be applicable to students, who will need to consider the additional cost of the application, which will be on top of their already increasing fees.

On a wider economic basis, universities estimate that EU students studying in the UK generate approximately £3.7bn per year for the economy, although this will vary at a local level depending on total EU enrolment at a given university.

For example, the University of Leicester estimates that EU students generated £143m for the region's economy and helped create 1,341 jobs in the East Midlands, thus providing a real economic boost to the area.

Although there remains a large amount of uncertainty regarding the outcome of a Brexit vote, it's clear that the combination of rising tuition fees and burdensome visa applications will be detrimental to EU student enrolment. However, implications go beyond enrolment figures and economic stats.

It's estimated that since 1987 and the establishment of the Erasmus programme, 20k academics and 200k students have taken part in the EU's university exchange scheme, which is seen as vital in helping the next generation of students become the leaders of tomorrow through the sharing of knowledge and cultures.

With government plans to allow universities to increase fees beyond their current limit of £9,000 if certain teaching criteria are met, then it's likely that value for money will remain hot on the agenda for both UK and EU applicants regardless of the vote outcome on June 23.