Scottish Universities sidelined by No-Deal Brexit contingency plans

Last week, The National Union of Students Scotland (NUS) President, Liam McCabe, decried UK government plans concerning the status of European Union (EU) students studying in Scotland post-Brexit as “shortsighted, impractical and ignorant.” This came amidst serious fears that Scottish Universities will disproportionately suffer in a no-deal scenario.

McCabe’s comments come following the recent release of the Yellowhammer document by the UK government in which contingency plans for a No-Deal Brexit were controversially revealed. One crucial element stands out: an attempt to provide reassurance for EU students embarking on courses at British universities up to December 2020, the government has agreed to grant a 36 month long ‘Temporary Leave to Remain’ (TLR). Providing the guarantee that for three years they can settle and study in the UK.

This offers stability for those choosing to study in English and Welsh universities where the typical degree is three years long. It also exposes a lack of understanding of the Scottish system (where degrees typically span four years) meaning that EU students in Scotland could face severe bureaucratic difficulties as they prepare to enter their fourth and final year.

The UK government has been accused of undercutting the Scottish system through this lack of acknowledgment that students could face the prospect of having to leave the country before the successful completion of their degree. McCabe has declared the move a “staggering disregard for Scotland’s distinctive education system.”

It is true that UCAS has noted a 15 per cent decline in overall applications from European students following the 2016 referendum. During a question and answer session held at the University of Glasgow this week, UK Education Secretary Gavin Williamson pledged security for EU students in Scotland but failed to outline a direct solution as yet.

Williamson promised “we’re not leaving things to chance,” but was met with scepticism from Richard Lochhead, Scotland’s Higher Education Minister.

Lochhead described the three-year time limit of TLRs as a taking a “wrecking ball” to the four-year Scottish degree system. Scotland’s government has thus far done everything within its devolved powers to provide reassurance for prospective EU applicants.

There has been confirmation of the continued application of free tuition to those starting courses in both the 2019/20 and 2020/21 academic years. This clearly denotes intent to financially support European students but it offers little comfort for those deterred by residency rights as opposed to fiscal barriers.

It remains to be seen just how attractive internationally prestigious and ancient Scottish universities will be when the prospect of student visa regulation becomes a reality for those previously accustomed to total freedom of movement.

The University of Edinburgh enjoys an internationally diverse academic community with 15 per cent of the university population hailing from EU countries. Vice President Community at the Edinburgh University Students’ Association, Rosheen Wallace, has commented on what the introduction of the TLR scheme might mean for the unique composition of our student community. Wallace said “There is no question that the effects of a no-deal Brexit on EU students would be felt much more deeply here in Scotland than they would in other parts of the UK. This is why my fellow Sabbatical Officers and I will continue to work with colleagues in this and other higher education institutions to highlight and try to mitigate the effects of Brexit on students.”

The value of British degrees in a global employment market may also change, according to a survey held by Universities UK. At present, UK and EU academic institutions “are hoping that mutual recognition of professional qualifications will continue.”

If the wording of this document tells us anything, it is surely that the themes of uncertainty and instability within the Scottish higher education sector will surely be here to stay.

 

Image: Any Rennie via Flickr

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The Student Newspaper 2016