22 March 2019
Many universities in Britain have been relying a great deal on the EU for their funding. Photo: Internet
Many universities in Britain have been relying a great deal on the EU for their funding. Photo: Internet

Brexit poses challenges and opportunities for UK universities

Shortly after the Brexit referendum I met Professor Shaun Breslin again in Britain.

Prof. Breslin, who had invited me to be a visiting fellow at the Warwick University several years ago, said the future of universities in Britain is anything but promising as a result of the country’s decision to leave the European Union.

The vast majority of universities in Britain, including the Oxford University where I got my PhD degree, are overwhelmingly in favor of their country remaining in the EU.

Over the years Britain’s EU membership has greatly facilitated academic exchange and cooperation between its tertiary education institutions and their counterparts in continental Europe.

In fact they have already got so used to such a close partnership that there is a great deal of apprehension among British academics about how things would turn out after Brexit.

Many are worried that they might no longer be able to visit or teach in universities in other European countries visa-free after Britain leaves the EU.

Many universities in Britain are also worried that they might need to carry out drastic budget cuts in the days ahead as a lot of them have been heavily funded by the EU over the years.

In the case of Warwick University, 15 percent of its budget is currently funded by the EU. It’s highly uncertain whether it could still hang on to that same amount of money after Brexit.

However, not everyone is pessimistic about the future.

Some academics in Britain believe the depreciation of the pound after Brexit might attract more cash-flush overseas students, especially those from Asia.

On the other hand, the expected decline in the number of students from other EU countries might also mean more university places for local British students.

While it’s still unclear whether British universities would be worse off or better off after the country’s exit from the EU, there is unanimous concern among British universities about the possible rise of xenophobia in Britain, something that is definitely against the interests of the country’s higher education sector.

In fact a few friends of mine who are currently studying in Britain told me that they had come across several cases of verbal racial abuse after the referendum.

To me, that is a truly worrisome trend.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 15.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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