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Preparing for Brexit – sailing steady through uncharted waters

Posted by  Andrew Garner

As we move towards leaving the EU, the implications of the Brexit vote are still not clear. Now that the government has triggered article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and the two-year countdown has started, institutions will have to navigate their way through unknown pressures and uncertainty.

While there are many theories about what may happen, the actual impact all these changes will have is still unknown. Higher education has always enjoyed a buoyant relationship with other EU countries – institutions collaborate on research projects and facilities, and staff and students enjoy the freedom of movement which is a key part of the EU membership. There is little doubt that both the research and the learning and teaching side of HE will be affected by Brexit.

As Matt Searles, education industry director of Unit4 UKI, pointed out in a blog post last year, recent statistics from Universities UK indicate that around 6% of students and 14% percent of academic staff are nationals of other EU member states. That’s a significant proportion of the talent and expertise that help UK institutions thrive as vibrant and diverse centres of learning.

Even if those currently in the UK remain unaffected, the challenge will be to maintain those levels in a more complex regulatory environment and a potentially less attractive or less certain living and professional environment.

UK students who decide to study or work abroad during their university degree usually graduate with a top-tier degree and find it easier to land a job after graduation. They also earn, on average, 5% more than those who don’t go abroad during their studies, which indicates that the time they spend outside the UK is incredibly valuable, both to them as individuals but also to the country.

As the facts and implications of Brexit become clear, institutions will need to work harder than ever before to convince students and staff that they are a good choice, and work effectively to deliver the opportunities and communities those people are seeking.

Embracing the latest technologies of the “digital revolution” will not only help mitigate the threats of a changing academic world but can also ensure you are better placed to seize the new opportunities that will be created. The future attractiveness and success of institutions will not only rest on building strong communities internally but also on their ability to reach outwards – to build broader communities with other institutions and employers; to forge smarter links with current and new regulatory and funding bodies.

The next two years are going to be interesting, and I’m sure opportunities as well as threats will present themselves as we go through the process of leaving the EU. It’s up to the individual institution to ensure they are prepared for change, whatever form it comes in and whatever the consequences, and able to deliver what students and staff expect despite the challenging times.

Andrew Garner

Andy has worked in the HE sector for the majority of his career, and joined Unit4 to specialise in Student Systems and Student Experience. During his career in HE, he has worked for several SI’s in different roles, giving him rich mixture of experience in the sector. He is passionate about making things better for students, and believes the power of higher education can transform lives. Andy has a unique perspective on how the sector works and he understands that success in the sector involves taking the time to build a strong relationship between parties, which can then be used to achieve great things together.

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