The impact of ‘Brexit’ on British Education and Research Institutions

Mehwisch Khan
Joint Honours (Law and European Languages) student at the University of Hertfordshire

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page” –  St. Augustine

The EU has been placed under a refined microscope because of the Eurozone crisis and supranationality of the European Union (EU) considered in parallel to the limited national sovereignty of its Member States (MS). Disgruntled with the overarching position of the EU, current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (UK) David Cameron has been cornered by his party backbenchers into holding a referendum on the 23rd of June 2016. Many have been left alarmed, while others overjoyed. Supporters and opponents pick and choose facts, exaggerate and understate crucial issues in order to woo the support of citizens. Amidst the heated debates of politicians and scholars many have been left feeling overwhelmed and largely misinformed. Words such as “Referendum”, “Eurosceptics”, “Europhiles” and “Brexit” have become part of our daily conversations – but what does a voter really need to know before making a decision?  As an undergraduate and a current Erasmus student I was curious of the potential impact of a Brexit on the education sector, this blog post aims to get a deeper understanding of the British input and European budget for the sector.


Britain imports many more students from the EU than it exports, and Eurosceptics argue that there would be a larger net income if UK was able to charge full international fees.[1] This is an attractive scenario since there were 78,845 EU domiciled undergraduates at UK universities in 2013-14 and 46,455 EU domiciled postgraduates.[2] Many universities across the EU have introduced courses in English to attract students from the UK who are deterred by the prospect of higher education due to the steep rise in university fees of £9000 annually. In comparison, universities in Denmark and Sweden don’t charge for undergraduate studies and the fees in Netherlands are £1500 for most undergraduate courses.[3] A review of ‘UK student mobility’ shows the government is keen to see more UK graduates with language and cultural awareness skills that come from having spent time studying or working oversees.[4] In response to the UK charging international fees, many EU countries could also charge international fees for British students, which may reduce their appeal. There is also no guarantee that EU students would remain interested in British universities and may choose other countries within the EU where fees and living costs are much cheaper.


The EU’s research programmes include Erasmus Programme and Horizon 2020 the second is worth €80 billion. Horizon 2020 is made up of three “pillars”: “excellent science”, “industrial relationship” and “societal challenges”.[5] As a member of the EU, the UK contributed in net £6.7 billion. Jonathan Arnott, an MEP who is a UK Independence Party’s (UKIP) spokesperson, says; “our view is simply that we are getting back a portion of the money which we already contributed towards the EU budget.”[6] Interestingly, British universities receive the highest sum of grants. In the years 2007-2013, the UK received €8.8 billion out of a total of €107 billion expenditure on research and development.[7] In 2012, the UK received the most European Research Council (ERC) funding with a total of 765 grants which were divided among University of Cambridge, University of Oxford, University College London and Imperial College.[8] Safe to say, EU funding is an invaluable source of funding for many UK universities and research centres.


The UK has not only benefitted by gaining generous sum of grants, it also boasts to be at the forefront of innovation and advancement be it in the field of medicine or technology. FORECEE (4C) is a project which began in September 2015 at University College London and aims to develop a test that can look at any woman’s epigenome to determine her risk of developing breast, cervical, endometrial and ovarian cancer and give her the information that she needs to mitigate risk and take preventative action. 4C was awarded €8million from Horizon 2020 and €1 million from a UK charity. Could the project have got off the ground if only UK research funding had been available? Widschwendter, the head of the 4C project in an interview for the ‘The Times’ said, “If you ask me, honestly, I would say no”.[9] This is an answer to those who ask “whether the EU ever spends taxpayer’s cash on forward looking European innovations.”[10]


The UK could continue to participate in the EU’s research programme by paying a fee as Switzerland did in the years 2007-13, however, buying a share of the programme will not give UK the same prestige and power of negotiation as it has when part of the EU. According to the Horizon 2020 provisions, for Switzerland a deal to grant part access  to parts of Horizon 2020 meant Switzerland “will remain a non-associated third country participant” for all other parts.[11] What use is national sovereignty if it hinders innovation and modern advancement? Within the EU, the UK is a powerful member with credible influence to be at the forefront of all research; outside the EU it stands the risk of being isolated completely while other Member States within the EU continue to work together and strive towards success.



[1] David Charter, Europe: In or Out: Everything you need to know (Biteback Publishing) 288









[10] David Charter, Europe: In or Out: Everything you need to know (Biteback Publishing) 288



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