22 June 2018
The First Minister Carwyn Jones has said, ‘Brexit poses different challenges and opportunities for each and every aspect of Welsh life’.
This blog briefly explores some of the opportunities and challenges universities and colleges face as the United Kingdom continues toward its exit from the European Union.
It complements the Children, Young People and Education Committee’s current inquiry into Brexit for which a stakeholder event is being held on 04 July 2018 in Cardiff.
Students and staff
It is not yet clear what the Immigration Rules will look like in the future, but UK Government guidance suggests a system which is more restrictive for EU citizens.
Universities Wales (PDF 282KB) argues that this would likely result in a fall in EU students leading to a negative impact on the experiences of students and staff.
Cardiff University (PDF 348KB) suggests that the reduction could be as much as 80-90% of the current number of EU undergraduate students.
How many EU students and staff are there in Wales?
In the academic year 2016/17 there were 6,235 EU students enrolled on a higher education qualification in Wales compared to 5,500 in 2012/13.
There were almost no EU students enrolled in further education in 2016/17.
The latest admissions data (PDF 348KB) shows higher education EU applicant numbers for 2018 are currently 2% higher than in 2017 across the whole of the UK. For Welsh institutions however the 2018 applicant numbers from EU countries are 9% lower than 2017.
The reduction in EU applicants to Welsh institutions comes at the same time as EU students start paying the full tuition fee as a result of the recent Diamond Review.
A significant number of Welsh university staff are recorded as being from the EU with Universities Wales stating that there were 1,355 staff (PDF 282KB) from the EU working within Welsh Universities in 2015/16. It estimates that was more than 10% of the workforce at Welsh universities.
What about other international students?
There are more than twice the number of non-EU international students enrolled on a higher education qualification in Wales compared to EU students. In 2016/17 there were 14,970 non-EU international students in Wales. This is more than 11% of the total number of students enrolled at Welsh Universities.
Funding for university research
In 2015/16 Welsh universities reported (PDF 348KB) receiving a total of £209 million from research grants and contracts, of which 12% (£25 million) was from EU sources. This compares to 35% (£73 million) received from UK Government funded Research Councils.
One of the sources of EU research funding for Welsh universities is the €70 billion Horizon 2020 EU research programme which runs from 2014 to 2020.
As reported by the Welsh Government (PDF 2,671KB), Wales has received €83 million from the programme up to September 2017 with allocations to universities accounting for 66% of this sum.
The UK Government has published a document (PDF 169KB) which it says ‘clarifies the UK’s eligibility to participate in Horizon 2020.’ In it, UK Government says that in light of negotiations to date it ‘envisages that existing projects will continue to receive an uninterrupted flow of EU funding for the lifetime of the project’ and that ‘UK participants will be eligible to bid for Horizon 2020 funding for the duration of the programme, including after the UK’s withdrawal from the EU’.
Both the UK and Welsh Government’s have a stated aim to benefit from Horizon 2020s successor programme known as Horizon Europe.
Horizon Europe will run from 2021 to 2027 and is worth €100 billion. Recent EU proposals suggest that the UK may be able to access Horizon Europe as a “third country” (PDF 656KB).
A number of universities, such as Cardiff University have also expressed concerns (PDF 348KB) beyond just funding, citing disruption to research networks and collaboration between institutions and researchers.
Winning more research funding
Welsh universities also have access to UK research and innovation funding via a body known as United Kingdom Research and Innovation (UKRI). It has a combined annual budget of more than £6 billion which is open to competition.
As pointed out by the author of the recent Welsh review (PDF 4,120KB) into government funded research, Professor Reid, there are no rules setting a limit on how much of the £6 billion that Welsh universities could win.
The growing budget in UKRI now presents major opportunities for businesses and universities in Wales […]. There is no limit to the proportion of UKRI funding that can be won [but] only the strongest competitors will win.
European Structural Funding
European Structural Funds (ESF) are another source of funding. Both Universities Wales (236 KB) and ColegauCymru (PDF 258KB), the representative bodies for Welsh universities and colleges respectively, see the replacement of EU structural funding as a clear priority.
It is easy to see why.
The Wales European Funding Office (WEFO) Approved Projects list shows 42 approved projects within the higher and further education sectors with total EU funds awarded of £281 million. With other match funding these projects are worth almost half a billion pounds between 2014 and 2023.
The report states that since 2000, ‘colleges have participated in a number of EU funded projects and initiatives with an overall value of £594million of which £124million is allocated for the current 2014-2020 period’.
Ideas for the future
Both the Welsh Government (PDF 1,782KB) and UK Government have identified what they see as weaknesses in the current ESF model with Welsh Government seeing the opportunity to strengthen the strategic focus of projects, remove artificial scheme boundaries and to ‘simplify administrative complexity and rules’.
The UK Government has announced (PDF 169KB) a Shared Prosperity Fund (a domestic investment programme) but there is little additional detail available on how it might operate.
The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) states that (PDF 434KB) the sector faces some ‘significant uncertainties arising from Britain’s forthcoming exit from the European Union’.
Others also point to opportunities to replace and even grow funding, to change the future offer for EU / international students, and to potentially continue in programmes that the sectors consider key such as Horizon Europe and Erasmus+, albeit as ‘third’ countries.
However, with nothing agreed until everything is agreed (PDF 475KB), no firm Welsh Government commitment yet to fully fund all the recommendations of the Reid Review, and with few current details on a future immigration regime or the future of regional investment, uncertainty for the sectors is likely to continue for a period of time yet.
Article by Phil Boshier, National Assembly for Wales Research Service