By Professor Bob Cryan, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Huddersfield
The United Kingdom is still in a limbo of uncertainty about the course of Brexit and in the short term this threatens to be damaging socially and economically. Therefore, it is important to provide reassurance and restore certainty wherever possible and I want to do this from the University of Huddersfield’s perspective.
I do not underestimate the challenges ahead. But the University of Huddersfield – in common with most of the UK’s Higher Education Sector – is a truly international institution in terms of research collaboration and student and staff recruitment. This will – and must - continue to be the case.
Therefore, let me assure staff and students from the EU how much we value your commitment and contribution. This assurance will backed up by a process for advice, discussion and consultation. But in the meantime, it is important to realise that leaving the EU will not happen overnight. The exit process will be gradual, with significant opportunities to seek assurances and influence future policy.
Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty foresees a two-year negotiation process between the UK and other Member States, during which time the terms of the UK’s exit from the European Union will be decided. We have yet to learn when Article 50 will be invoked. Therefore, barring unilateral action from the UK Government, the vote to leave the European Union does not mean there will be any immediate material change to the UK university sector’s participation in EU programmes such as Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+, nor to the immigration status of current and prospective EU students and staff.
There has been a statement from the Minister of State for Universities and Science, Jo Johnson, to the effect that: “EU nationals or their family members, currently in higher education, and who are assessed as eligible to receive loans and/or grants from the Student Loan Company (SLC), will continue to receive these loans and grants until they finish their course. This applies to all student finance from the SLC for students in England, for which EU nationals are eligible”.
The Minister goes on to confirm that the rules applying to EU nationals, or their family members, who have applied for a place at university from this August to study a course which attracts student support are unchanged. For further clarification, students should consult the University’s student finance office or the GOV.UK website.
In addition, it is vital that we take every opportunity to demonstrate to students and staff from the EU that they are welcome and valued at the University of Huddersfield. The Higher Education sector as a whole must also try and convince the UK Government to take steps to ensure that staff and students from EU countries and beyond can continue to work and study at British universities, and to promote the UK as a welcoming, open and tolerant destination for the brightest and best minds.
It will also be a priority to enable researchers and students to access vital pan-European programmes and build new global networks. The UK’s universities are among the very best in the world and every effort should be undertaken to try and preserve that.
Professor Bob Cryan