I am still not entirely sure why Florence was chosen for Theresa May’s speech last week. Is it her vision that Europe should return to a medieval landscape of competing city states? Proof that there is life after being the financial centre of the universe? Or maybe she has always been a fan of Salvatore Ferragamo and it is the only positive association she can make with “foreign”?
While there was still very little in the way of a concrete action plan for departing the European Union, it does appear that reality has intervened to a certain extent. This will be complicated, it will be unprecedented, and the idea that the UK had a crack team of super-bureaucrats just waiting to take back control and exploit the opportunities presented by Brexit has now been fully exposed as nonsense, although their leadership is even more suspect. Two years was never going to work as a time frame and the UK has asked for a transition period of an additional two years, taking us through to spring 2021.
Presumably the European Union would have to agree to this extension. Bearing in mind that Article 50 was triggered in a completely reckless fashion I don’t think this should be taken for granted. However, it is true that avoiding a cliff edge is in everyone’s best interests and no deal being better than a bad deal is just one of those things our politicians say but don’t mean.
The request for an extension does absolutely nothing for anyone looking for longer term certainty on the future of the UK and the European Union. However, it does create a window of opportunity for students who are about to go to university. With a March 2019 departure date, students starting at an EU university in September 2018 could very well be liable for non-EU fees from the second year of their studies. If the departure is delayed by two years, because the existing status quo will be maintained during this period, then fees would not increase until spring 2021 at the earliest. Students commencing a three-year degree in 2018 are likely to have graduated before any higher fee regime comes into effect. Those students looking to study in Holland can be cautiously optimistic in my opinion.
Theresa May did also mention that the two-year transition period could be shortened if quicker progress is made thus creating an additional element of uncertainty. I would not bet on such an eventuality.
It might seem a little perverse to choose the day before the general election to write an update on the implications of Brexit on British outbound student mobility. However, I think it is reasonably safe to assume that there will be no change in the direction of travel as a result of tomorrow’s vote. It would be nice to think there might be a change in tone but that is probably also too much to ask.
Since our last post on the subject, we have been trying to find out if our initial assessment might not have been too gloomy. It probably wasn’t but I think we can see some areas of encouragement for British students at both the EU and the national level.
In its list of demands for Phase One of the Brexit negotiations, the European Parliament laid down its so-called red lines for the negotiations. We missed it at the time but following a webinar today with the European University Association, it appears that discussion on the rights of EU nationals in the UK (as well as UK nationals in the rest of the European Union) does not only extend to those who are currently abroad. It is the parliament’s assertion that anyone born before the exit date (ie. most likely 1st April 2019 at the earliest) should be guaranteed the rights of EU membership for the rest of their lives. If this is correct, it means that anyone British currently alive, or soon to be born, should be able to access European higher education on the same basis as any other EU citizen. This could potentially protect British students from any change of status midway through their studies.
Obviously, this is a starting point in the negotiation no matter that it might be described as a red line. If this proposal were to be accepted it would more or less mean that the limit on free movement wouldn’t come into effect for decades yet. This is hardly going to appeal to the huge majority of leave voters who cannot articulate a reason for Brexit’s necessity beyond “taking back control” of British borders. Still, it is not as if the other objectives of Brexit can be achieved either, being as they are largely the fault/responsibility of domestic politics.
At a national level, we have been able to establish that there is one country where fees for British students will be the same whatever the outcome of the Brexit process. And those fees will be zero. German universities do not charge fees for international students no matter where they come from, although this might change in certain Bundeslaender. I believe Baden-Wuerttemburg might be considering introducing international fees but we have been advised that this will not be happening any time soon in Bavaria, for example.
There aren’t many Bachelor’s degrees taught in English at German universities and those that are tend to be in strategically important STEM subjects. Germany is keen that its international students stick around after graduation – this sentence will make improbable reading to anyone following UK discussions about immigration. Although entry requirements can be quite hard to meet with A’ levels, there are now some very good options available at universities such as the Technical University of Munich and Deggendorf University of Applied Sciences.
Many policy initiatives in the area of international higher education aim to achieve outbound mobility for 50% of all students. The German government has announced a target of 50% of its local students to take part in international education and here in the UK, many universities have announced similar targets, most notably De Montfort University. While it is encouraging to note that such initiatives are usually backed by additional financial support for students (or an acknowledgment that it will be necessary to achieve their goals) there are still a number of problems involved in aiming for such an arbitrary target.
Firstly, what constitutes international experience and is it meaningful in an educational context? To reach this target it will be natural to include all manner of international experience; DMU mentions anything from a four-week language course upwards. While there is almost certainly a benefit to any prolonged period of time abroad, is it sensible to think that this will lead to a greater appreciation of life in another country or indeed anything beyond a cursory evaluation of another culture? The same argument can also apply to a full academic year abroad if it does not allow students to integrate fully into the life of a host university or company, in the case of work experience. For an individual university there is also the issue of managing sufficient partnerships to avoid recreating its own classrooms on foreign soil. In the case of DMU the ultimate plan is to send 11,000 students abroad; this will require a huge number of institutional partners. These arguments are well-known and well-rehearsed amongst professionals in the field of international higher education so does this mean that within every 50% target there is a tacit agreement about how much should be made up of students who go for a full year or more, or those who go for less than a month and how many should go to any one partner university at any one time?
Also, those students who go fully international for their education do not tend to show up in any recorded statistics and can fall between the cracks if they are not registered with an educational institution in their own country and/or receiving government financial support. It could therefore be that the amount of students internationally mobile lies somewhere between 0 and 100% of young people not in domestic higher education or otherwise accounted for.
Secondly, why 50%? Which half of the student population would not benefit from international higher education or couldn’t be persuaded to spend some time abroad? The poorest? The most male?
We spend a huge amount of time advising young people in the United Kingdom on the possibility of studying abroad for all or part of their undergraduate study. While there is undoubtedly a growth in interest and willingness to consider studying abroad I doubt we could say that 50% of young people are enthused by this possibility. Would it not be better to focus on those students who are actually interested in going abroad and providing them with suitable options and/or financial support? A 50% target can only be the result of a governmental or institutional perspective, one that is prescriptive in its attitude to students’ needs. If international higher education is a genuinely good thing, and I firmly believe it is, shouldn’t we just be focussing on helping those students who show an interest rather than shoehorning as many people as necessary into meeting an arbitrary target? If higher education wishes to address an issue relating to international student mobility wouldn’t it be better to target this:
Why this difference? Females account for 63.5% of all people who study abroad while males 36.5%