How Brexit-ready are you?

Posted by  Matt Searles

As Higher Education institutions across Europe embark on a new academic year, the implications of the UK’s EU referendum result will loom large in the minds of staff and students who work or study away from their home country. And it will be of equal concern to those who now need to steer their institutions through the coming changes.
But with so little yet clear about a post-Brexit Education sector, what practical steps can institutions take to prepare for the impacts of change and to adapt and safeguard their long-term future?

Navigating to a new world

The exact outcomes may not be known but it’s safe to say that the Brexit decision makes an already challenging Education “marketplace” even more complex and competitive. It adds extra layers of uncertainty and change that can only be addressed by becoming more agile and more innovative.

And this “new world” is not a distant possibility; it started as soon as the result was clear – it won’t wait for the completion of the process, and HE institutions can’t afford to wait either.

The coming years will see four key phases, each with the potential to continually rewrite the rule book on how students and staff choose where to study and work:

  • Phase 1: The fog of uncertainty
  • Phase 2: Notice and negotiations
  • Phase 3: Implementation (AKA the worst of both worlds)
  • Phase 4: Welcome to the “New Normal”

Stuck in fog

Let’s start by looking at this from a UK perspective. Recent statistics from Universities UK indicate that around 6% of UK 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.

The questions are many:

  • Will studying in the UK deliver the same opportunities (educationally and for employment post-course)?
  • Will studying in the UK be financially viable for EU students?
  • Will institutions have to cope with higher levels of staff turnover?
  • Will course completion (dropout) rates get worse?
  • Will staff employment terms change?
  • Will student funding/fees be affected or will there be a greater variety of situations that need to be handled.
  • Will estate/asset management be affected by a change in availability (or costs) of ancillary staff.
  • What will the impact be of UK HE and Research being split between two government departments (new reporting structures, new competition for funding)?

And, taking a broader European perspective, Brexit could trigger more far-reaching changes:

  • Satellite campuses may become an increasingly attractive option (both for UK institutions reaching out and EU institutions reaching in).
  • Changes in student fee funding could actually free institutions (e.g. in Scotland) to expand student numbers and compete more actively for students from outside the UK.
  • Institutions in the EU may trade on their potential to offer a wider academic choice than that available within a more insular UK academic community.

Agility for a changing environment

One of the keys to being ready for this new future is to have administration systems – whether for students or staff or both – that are smart, flexible and effective now and that will easily evolve with your institution. There will clearly be growing pressure to cope with greater variety, diversity and complexity of situations – for example to support higher levels of the types of more complex recruitment and welfare management that are currently only involved for non-EU students and non-EU staff. It’s vital that you have the power to adapt your systems yourselves to respond to new structures and new requirements and fast-shifting levels and type of information.

Digitality – building innovative and connected communities

Whether staff and students are making choices based on fear or on a clearer understanding of the new world as facts emerge, institutions will need to work harder than ever before to convince people that they are a good choice and to work effectively to deliver the opportunities and the kinds of communities that 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.

Time to act

Today, there are still many more questions than answers, but waiting for events to unfold is not an option. Start planning and working now, to make sure your systems will drive your institution’s success – not only to escape the “fog” but to be best placed to capitalize on the “new normal” when it arrives.

Download “A digital upgrade hits the campus” to discover how to transform your institution and achieve your aspirations.

Matt Searles