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Education

Brexit threat to Welsh universities

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Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 14.06.36MORE THAN 100 prospective European students have withdrawn applications to study at a Welsh university following the European referendum result. 

Professor John Grattan, acting Vice- Chancellor of Aberystwyth University, said about half of those pulled out the day after the Brexit vote.

“I won’t hide it from you that Brexit poses a challenge to the university,” Prof Grattan told students during one of the graduation ceremonies this week.

“Over 100 European students have withdrawn their applications to us at this point, 50 by the end of Friday on Brexit day.

“That’s a stunning impact on our finances. There are 120,000 European students at British universities.”

The BBC has reported that Prof Grattan’s concerns do not exist in isolation, and that other Welsh Universities are also concerned about both the short -term and long -term effects on their finances.

THE CHALLENGE OF BREXIT 

‘Leaving the EU will create significant challenges for Welsh universities’. Whether one considers that comment, made by Wales’s Cabinet Secretary for Education, Kirsty Williams, as unnecessary doom-mongering or a significant understatement of the size of the problems ahead, the decision to leave the EU will have a significant impact on the Welsh higher education sector.

The reliance of some institutions and some courses on relatively significant numbers of EU students to ensure viability of provision could cause considerable pressure on the already-squeezed budgets of higher education institutions.

While leaving the EU will not happen overnight – to the apparent amazement of some Brexit supporters – there will be a gradual exit process and it is that process which presents Welsh Universities with the best chance to ensure that they do not lose out as the tide of EU students studying in the UK reduces – as it surely will – and the opportunities available to Welsh students to study in the EU recede.

The EU referendum outcome will not lead to any immediate change to the immigration status of current EU students or those about to start a course in the coming academic year (2016–17). This has been confirmed in a statement from Jo Johnson, UK Minister of State for Universities and Science.

Ms Johnson said: “EU and international students make an important contribution to our world-class universities, and our European neighbours are among some of our closest research partners.

“There are obviously big discussions to be had with our European partners, and I look forward to working with the sector to ensure its voice is fully represented and that it continues to go from strength to strength.”

However, the longer term implications for EU students who want to apply to study in the UK (ie from 2017–18 onwards) will depend on the outcome of negotiations and what kind of relationship the UK agrees with the EU.

An immediate priority for Welsh universities is to urge the government to take steps to ensure students from EU countries can continue to study at UK universities on the same terms after the UK leaves the European Union and beyond.

‘EU STAFF VITAL’ 

Kirsty Williams has sought to address concerns raised in the aftermath of the referendum: “There is no escaping that the recent referendum has unleashed uncertainty and worry. In some cases, it may have roused the spectre of racial tensions. I want to send a message loud and clear that students and staff from across the European Union are still welcome at Welsh Universities. Those already studying here, and those who are planning to come, are still welcome – our places of learning are still there for you.

“Welsh universities will continue to recruit and teach students from across the world. The long, proud tradition of European students coming to Wales has helped us foster our relationship with many countries. There are thousands of people who have a special place for Wales in their hearts after studying here. Our country will remain a tolerant, accepting and safe place where people from any nation can pursue their academic ambitions. Let me be clear, we will not tolerate any form of racial abuse whether on our campuses or within the wider communities in which we are rooted.

“Let’s not forget EU staff are vital to the operation of our universities. We attract some of the best minds from across Europe to teach here and importantly carry out research that will benefit the people of Wales, from developing life-saving medicines to clean energy. This will not and must not change. Our universities are central to our social and economic future and they thrive through the diversity of the people who come to them.

“The Welsh Government is determined to protect Wales’ reputation as a friendly and tolerant place to study and carry out world-class research. Whatever the long-term implication of the vote, we remain an outward looking and welcoming nation where we are committed to sharing knowledge across national borders.”

STUDENT FINANCE 

EU students attending universities in England and Wales who are eligible under current rules to receive loans and grants from the Student Loans Company will continue to do so for the duration of courses they are currently enrolled on, or are about to start this coming year. This has been confirmed by the Student Loans Company for England, and by Universities Wales for Wales.

Under EU law, students from EU member states applying for undergraduate degrees at Scottish universities are currently eligible for free tuition. For EU students attending a university in Scotland, the Scottish Government and Universities Scotland have confirmed that there has been no change in current funding arrangements and that eligible EU students already studying in Scotland or commencing their studies in the coming months will continue to benefit from free tuition and, for those who meet the residency requirement, associated living cost support.

EU nationals or their family members, currently in higher education, and who are assessed as eligible to receive loans and/or grants from SFW, will continue to receive these loans and grants until they finish their course. This applies to all student finance from SFW for students in Wales for which EU nationals are eligible. This includes grants and loans to cover tuition fees (for those resident in the EEA for three years), loans and grants for maintenance (limited to those resident in the UK for at least three years), and some other grants and allowances.

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. SFW will assess these applications against existing eligibility criteria, and will provide loans and/or grants in the normal way. EU nationals, or their family members, who are assessed as eligible to receive grants and/ or loans by the SLC will then be eligible for the duration of their study on that course.

RESEARCH OPPORTUNITIES THREATENED 

While there will be no immediate change to the UK university sector’s ability to participate in EU research and innovation programmes, such as Horizon 2020, the long term future of UK participation in European science programmes will be decided as part of the UK’s exit negotiations. These talks are expected to take up to two years. The UK will remain an EU member during this time and as such will be entitled to participate in EU programmes and apply for EU research grants.

After that point, the situation is uncertain. Although Universities UK is committed to making sure that the UK government takes steps to ensure that the UK can continue to participate in EU research collaboration and funding programmes after the UK formally leaves the European Union, the UK will be reliant upon either the goodwill or self-interest of its former EU partners. What it will be keen to avoid is the sort of relationship Canada has with the EU where it gets to participate in research but not have access to all of that research’s results.

The issue of research funding was raised during the Brexit campaign, but nobody on either side of the referendum debate appears to have given the matter any real thought or made any real preparations for the consequences of Brexit upon Britain’s research sector.

STAFFING 

The UK government has confirmed that there has been no change to the rights and status of EU nationals in the UK as a result of the referendum, and that it ‘recognises and values the important contribution made by EU and other non-UK citizens who work, study and live in the UK’.

The UK remains a member of the EU for the time being and the government has confirmed that there will be no immediate changes to UK visa policies for university staff currently in, or contemplating coming to, the UK from the EU.

In terms of recruiting EU staff in the longer term, any changes will depend on the kind of relationship the UK negotiates with the EU. Universities UK (UUK) is urging the UK government to guarantee that those currently working at UK universities can continue to do so in the long term. UUK is also calling on the UK government to make a clear and unequivocal statement that any changes to immigration status will only apply to new entrants to the UK.

However, as long as the UK remains a member of the EU – that is until the end of the Article 50 process intended to manage the UK’s withdrawal – there is likely to be stasis on the issue and accompanying uncertainty.

UK STUDENTS IN THE EU 

While EU students are a source of finance to UK Universities, small numbers of UK students elect to attend European universities, some because tuition fees are lower in some high quality institutions in Europe than they are (regardless of the quality of the teaching) in almost every UK higher education provider. In addition, UK students enjoy access to European Universities as part of academic exchanges as part of their courses and the Erasmus+ programme.

The Erasmus+ Programme is a European funding programme established in 1987, offering university students the possibility of studying or doing an internship abroad in another country for a period of at least two months and maximum 12 months per cycle of studies. After completing a first year of studies any student can benefit from the Erasmus+ studies and Erasmus+ placement programmes. Each student receives a grant which covers partly the costs of the stay abroad. Grants differ from sending and host countries. The grant can often be complemented by regional or national grants.

Students from UK universities currently overseas on an Erasmus+ placement, and those considering applying to participate in Erasmus+ next year (2016-17), will not be affected by the referendum result. The European Commission has confirmed that EU law continues to apply to the full in the United Kingdom until it is no longer a member. This therefore also applies to the projects financed through the Erasmus+ programme.

In the longer term, Universities UK will be urging the government to seek assurances from the EU that the UK can continue to access this valuable exchange programme. However, there are no guarantees and whether the issue will even figure as anything but a footnote in the Brexit negotiations remains to be seen.

Back to Kirsty Williams who, speaking at a graduation event at Swansea University on July 14, remarked: “Our universities are central to our social and economic future and they thrive through the diversity of the people who come to them.

“The Welsh Government is determined to protect Wales’ reputation as a friendly and tolerant place to study and carry out world-class research. Whatever the long-term implication of the vote, we remain an outward looking and welcoming nation where we are committed to sharing knowledge across national borders.”

Whether those fine words convert into educational reality is, however, very much out of the Welsh Government’s hands.

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Education

Project in support of Ceredigion Lifeboat Campaign continues to grow

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PUPILS at a London school have again this term been working on maths and English projects that highlight the need to retain an all-weather lifeboat in New Quay and, having impressed a leading educational guru, the project continues to grow.

Since the RNLI’s announcement in June 2017 that it plans to strip Ceredigion of its only all-weather lifeboat, public opposition has been growing. To date, over 31,000 people have signed a petition opposing the RNLI’s downgrade plan, and the Ceredigion Lifeboat Campaign has gained the support of a number of prominent politicians and public figures, as well as pupils from an inner-city London school.

Pupils at Harris Academy St John’s Wood have again spent the summer term studying the facts and figures of future lifeboat coverage in Cardigan Bay. The project was initiated last year by maths teacher Alexandra Lay, who was looking for meaningful and engaging ways into the curriculum, and the lifeboat theme has now become a fixture on the school’s curriculum.

Alexandra, who studied at Aberystwyth University, and is a keen kayaker, explained: “When I first saw a map of the huge gap that the RNLI’s decision will leave in Cardigan Bay, I saw an opportunity to teach loci to my year 8s with a real purpose and real-life application.

“As the project developed, my young mathematicians were able to apply their understanding of bearings, loci and speed, as well as distance and time. Through studying all the facts and figures, my pupils began to feel a real sense of empathy for the New Quay community and wanted to do what they could to help save the all-weather lifeboat.”

The project was then taken up by the English department who planned a series of lessons around the history of the RNLI and the role of the all-weather lifeboat at New Quay. Pupils debated the subject in their lessons and wrote persuasive letters to the RNLI Chief Executive.

The project has now caught the attention of Alistair Smith, a prominent presenter, trainer and developer in learning, education and professional football, who works with schools and colleges across the UK and abroad.

Alexandra continued: “Alistair Smith visited the school and observed one of my lifeboat lessons. He was very impressed with what we’d achieved and offered his full support and guidance.

“Alistair’s feedback led to the Head of Teaching and Learning championing the lifeboat campaign as a cross-curricular project across the academy. Next year, the whole year 7 curriculum for the summer term will be based around the theme of saving New Quay’s lifeboat.”

The Harris Federation is a not-for-profit charity that includes 47 primary and secondary academies across London, with 32,000 pupils and 3,700 staff. The school now plans to bring a group of students New Quay for a boat trip as a prize for the best work.

Alexandra continued: “I have thoroughly enjoyed working on the project this year. The pupils are more committed than ever and this is reflected in the quality of their work. The letters and reports that they have produced show that downgrading New Quay lifeboat will unquestionably be detrimental to seafarers and members of New Quay’s local community. It is undeniable that downgrading the all-weather lifeboat at New Quay will put lives at risk.”

In response to the letters written by the students to the RNLI Chief Executive last year, an RNLI representative gave an assurance that: “The Chief Executive and Operations Director have seen the work your students produced, and have asked our Education team to respond in full.” Almost 12 months later, the students are still waiting for a response.

Alexandra concluded: “The lack of response is very disappointing given the seriousness of the issue about which my students, colleagues and I feel so concerned. It makes us wonder whether the RNLI have any evidence at all to back the decision they made.”

To find out more about the campaign to save Ceredigion’s only all-weather lifeboat, visit www.ceredigionlifeboatcampaign.org.uk or search for Ceredigion Lifeboat Campaign on Facebook.

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Education

Ceredigion music teacher presented with Honorary Fellowship

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A PERIPATETIC music teacher who worked for Ceredigion Music Service for 35 years has been presented as an Honorary Fellow of Aberystwyth University.

Originally from Treherbert in the Rhondda Valley, Alan Phillips began his music career playing brass with the local Treherbert Band whilst at school.

After leaving school he became a bricklayer – a skill which took him all over the UK and to Europe. Then, at the age of 23 he embarked on a Music degree at Aberystwyth, graduating in 1981.

After gaining a Post Graduate Certificate in Education from Cardiff, a chance encounter with some of his Aberystwyth friends led him to apply for the vacant brass peripatetic post in Ceredigion, to which he was duly appointed.

Over a 35 year career working for Ceredigion Music Service, Alan started the Aberystwyth Town Youth Band, and took numerous groups of young musicians to competitions at home and abroad.

Alan was presented as Honorary Fellow during the first of the University’s 2019 graduation ceremonies on Tuesday 16 July by Dr Rhodri Llwyd Morgan, Director of Welsh Language and External Engagement.

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Education

Hwyl yr Haf – Your guide for the summer holidays in Ceredigion

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CERED’S 2019 Hwyl yr Haf programme was launched on July 5 at Gŵyl Aber. It is the essential guide for parents looking for Welsh and bilingual activities for their children in Ceredigion over the school summer holidays.

Cered has been creating Hwyl yr Haf programmes since 2017 to coordinate Welsh language activities during the school summer holidays in the Aberystwyth area, and to raise awareness of the wealth of Welsh language activities that are on the doorstep. This year’s programme will see Hwyl yr Haf include partners in south Ceredigion for the first time to ensure that Hwyl yr Haf actvities are accessible to children, young people and families across the county.

There are a number of new and exciting activities in Hwyl yr Haf 2019 including Ceredigion Museum’s planetarium and Gwersyll yr Urdd Llangrannog’s Activity Days. There are also art, music, drama and dance workshops; Gigs Cantre’r Gwaelod’s Sunday Afternoon Series; mountain biking sessions and much more.

Non Davies is Cered’s Manager. She said: “Over ten thousand people saw our Hwyl yr Haf programme in 2018 and many of the activities sold out. With new partners such as Cardigan Castle, Gwersyll yr Urdd Llangrannog and Llandysul Library on board for the first time, this year we hope that even more Ceredigion families can enjoy a wealth of Welsh language activities over the summer holidays.”

To find Hwyl yr Haf activities search for Cered on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or go to www.cered.cymru/hwyl-yr-haf-19.

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