How Will Brexit Affect Philosophy in the UK?
According to Times Higher Education (THE), there is some concern among higher education leaders in the UK about the effect that the successful referendum to leave the European Union will have on academic funding.
The percentage of competitive grant research income in the UK that comes from the European Union varies by field, and its status is unclear in the wake of the vote. Among the most vulnerable fields is philosophy, which, together with ethics and religion, receives about 36.07% of its grant income from the EU:
The data are from the consultancy Digital Science, whose report, Examining Implications of Brexit for the UK Research Base, looked at research money won from UK and EU sources over the past decade. Much turns on whether a post-Brexit government – most likely a Conservative one that could be led by Boris Johnson – would compensate organisations that lost out.
Daniel Hook, managing director of Digital Science, told THE that “if we were to leave the EU, there’s no guarantee it [funding] would automatically go away”, not least because some of it was already committed as part of multi-year projects. But he warned that “if we were to Brexit, we’d need a three-year plan to replace the money”. The money saved from the UK’s £8 billion annual net contribution to the EU would need to be reinvested in areas that would lose out, he said. “I don’t think there’s anything else out there,” he warned.
Apart from funding consequences, there are concerns about inclusion and collaboration. THE paraphrases Bill Rammell, vice-chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire:
Brexit would be “catastrophic” for UK universities because it would hinder research collaboration and make it more difficult to recruit a “culturally diverse” student body.
Further thoughts on the impact of Brexit on academia, especially the philosophy profession, welcome.
(Thanks to Daniel O’Connell and Daniel Brunson for bringing this news item to my attention.)
Over two million people have signed a petition for a second referendum along with heavy #Regrexit over voting to leave accompanying. So I wonder if this is anything close to a done deal.Report
Given that 16 million people voted to remain, it’s hardly surprising that 2 million people would like a second referendum.Report
The second petition was started by a Brexit supporter. Looks like a second referendum shouldn’t be surprising given any of the outcomes.Report
There is another issue w.r.t. universities and leaving the EU that I haven’t seen mentioned yet, namely, the increased difficulties that overseas students will face.
Overseas students provide significantly more money than home students in terms of tuition fees, and departments (well, at least, my department, and presumably others in my university) are regularly encouraged to focus our recruitment energies in bringing in more foreign students to help out with cash problems.
If we lose the free travel of people from within the rest of the EU to the UK, if these people now have to jump through crazy insane visa hoops or worse, then it’s going to be harder to recruit these people as a monetary stopgap (not that we should be doing so in the first place). Even if the administrative side of things doesn’t kick in for some time, you can bet significantly fewer EU people are going to want to come study in the UK in the face of the very clear “you’re not wanted” message they’ve just been given.
You can also bet that the government is going to care about the financial loss universities will face with the loss of international students, and will have little interest in providing the funding that will be lost. So, yes, I am worried about higher education in the UK as a result of this.Report
This is a good point. An American friend of mine had the damnedest time doing a study abroad in Belgium; having the process simplified by EU cooperation must be nice. At the same time, I suspect the folks who voted for Brexit aren’t too worried about study abroad. They likely didn’t go to college, are underemployed or jobless and feel left behind by globalization. The kids at Oxbridge complaining that they can’t go to Paris now (for example) are not going to gain much traction against Brexit supporters.Report
I wonder whether this is a serious issue – clearly, Norway or Switzerland manage just fine. It might well be that UK gives more money than it receives (I am not sure) or at least 1:1, so if it is reinvested appropriately, no serious harm done. I think long term effects are hard to predict. But I doubt Oxbridge will suffer in any serious way. The rest might be a different issue.Report
In fact, because UK higher education is such high quality, competitive grants from the EU flow disproportionately to UK institutions. The UK gets back almost twice what it puts in. As for Norway and Switzerland doing just fine – those countries have per capita GDPs closer to double the UK’s. So yes, the UK will be fine (if it discovers oil reserves of the magnitude of Norway’s).Report
The issue of research funding is relatively minor. This funding is, I believe, ERC project grants, of which there are only a few a year each year that create a small number of (highly valued) post-doc opportunities. It is even possible that this funding will continue as a result of negotiations. The bulk of research funding in the UK is not linked to projects, and is distributed by the UK government as a result of the REF.
Much more immediately important is the effect on mood, quite independently of funding. Will EU staff stay in the UK if they receive offers elsewhere? Will they continue to apply? And will UK and other international staff stay, given that one thing that attracts many people to the UK is a belief in wide tolerance (note that most university cities voted to remain, not a surprise). Even more immediately, will next year’s EU students turn up, or apply in future years, even if there is no change in funding?
I have courses in my Faculty that attract more EU students than UK. Philosophy is not in that position, but the numbers are significant. If enrollments fall, there will, eventually, be no alternative to shrinking faculties. What would happen in practice is that the more highly ranked universities will lower their entry requirements for UK students, leaving the lower ranked universities unable to recruit. In that case the most likely outcome is the closure of some departments, and shrinkage of others, and hence reduced job prospects, for PhDs. In the 1980s this had a downward spiral effect and fewer people enrolled for PhDs in the UK, going to the USA, as many of my contemporaries did (and I started on that path myself, though was lucky enough to get one of I think about five jobs in philosophy on the UK in 1985.) This could all happen simply because non-UK students feel less welcome in the UK, even if in practice there is no change to funding. On the other hand, European 18 year olds might shrug it all off and decide they still want to come to the UK in large numbers. If so it is business as usual. We will begin to find out in October, when they enroll for next year, and have a better indication in December, when applications for next year come in. Many universities have posted upbeat messages, assuring students that we still highly value all our European partnerships and students.Report
I’m an EU national doing a PhD in the US, and about to go on the job market. The Brexit vote makes UK much less attractive as a potential destination for me. I’m particularly worried about what might happen to my legal status and right to work in a couple of years, but also about the expected recession, the weaker currency, and how much this referendum seems to have emboldened xenophobes around the country. (I’m from one of the countries that have been the focus of anti-immigration sentiment.)Report
There are some important relevant differences between Scotland and England, because higher education is a ‘devolved power’, i.e. controlled from Edinburgh not London, though there are many cross-border institutions, including the UK-wide research councils and REF research assessment.
Undergraduate tuition fees: currently, Scottish and non-UK-EU applicants compete for a fixed number of effectively free-of-charge places at Scottish universities, i.e. they are funded by the Scottish government. Rest-of-UK (RUK) students typically pay £9000 per year, i.e. the same as they would pay at most English universities. Scottish undergraduate degrees usually take four years, unlike the standard three years at an English university. Non-EU students pay much more, sometimes double the RUK fee.
Postgraduate tuition fees: these vary more widely between Scottish universities, but at postgraduate level there are only two categories of student, i.e. UK/EU (including Scotland), and non-EU, and again the non-EU students pay a much higher fee.
I have no idea what will happen to these fees and structures if/when the whole UK leaves the EU.
‘If/when’ because the Brexit vote has re-opened the question whether Scotland should become independent from the rest of the UK. During the 2014 referendum campaign, one key argument against Scottish independence was that Scotland would be unable to remain in the EU post-independence (or that we would have to ‘re-join’ under unfavourable terms). Scottish independence now looks more like a route to remaining in the EU (as a clear majority of Scottish voters prefer), under whatever terms are available.
I agree with Jo that the effect on mood could have the greatest short-term effect; medium-term much will depend on post-Brexit immigration rules for both employees and students, with or without Scottish independence. Scottish philosophy is so enriched by our brilliant colleagues and students from across Scotland, the UK, the EU and the world; it is painful to imagine any diminution of that diversity.Report
In addition to the possibility of increased postgraduate fees for EU students, there’s also a lot of uncertainty around PhD scholarships, some of which are open to UK/EU students only. Presumably funding bodies will have to revise their current plans if they need to cover higher fees (with fees plus stipend scholarships), and so we may end up with less scholarships.
A further issue is the funding some EU students get from their home countries to support their university education in the UK (from either the state or other funding bodies). I know of some students who have already been told that such funding is not guaranteed anymore and will depend on how the funding bodies decide to react to the prospect of a Brexit.Report
I agree with Jo Wolff that mood might be an important factor for EU (as well as other non-UK) students and staff. But while it may now feel like “let me out of here, can I please get a job in Sweden”, it’s hard to tell now how that will work out, as it depends on how the referendum result plays out in how open the UK feels to other EU citizens in the long run. This holds both practically, as Katherine Hawley points out, but also in terms of a more general atmosphere in the country. I try console myself by reminding me that 48 percent of people voted Remain and that not all of the Leave voters voted because of immigration issues, but it still feels very hard.
EU student intake: A big issue for departments now might be planning insecurity with regard to student numbers. For the next round of applications, programs with more applicants than places might find it hard to know how many EU students can be expected to take up their offer and hence how many offers to make. This holds especially since, like now, the political situation might change drastically and unpredictably between the time of making offers and the deadline by which students have to accept them.
Immediate impact: We might also be able to observe an immediate impact in the coming weeks as prospective EU students have to decide whether to accept their offers, which means that departments right now have less of an idea of how many new students will arrive in the autumn term and might find themselves with fewer students, and hence fee income, than expected and planned for. Maybe some departments and universities will try to make late offers to rejected/waitlisted students to fill any gaps, which might lead to a flurry of prospective students moving around departments, but I don’t know enough about admissions to know if that is a realistic prospect. Does anyone involved in admissions have a clearer idea of this, and of any contingency plans that might have been discussed and made in the run up to the referendum?
Mitigating uncertainty: It would surely help these prospective students if universities make pledges that EU tuition will remain constant over the course of their degree, which I take some universities have already done. But such pledges would get increasingly financially risky in subsequent years, unless government matches the pledges with a pledge to keep subsidising EU student places like Home student places for the same duration. Another relevant issue that can affect EU student intake is whether EU students are guaranteed to have access to UK student loans for the whole duration of their courses, which is something that universities cannot pledge, and which government would have to do. So some students might not take up places even with guaranteed tuition fees because they can not be sure that their student finance will remain secure for the entire course. A student who starts in the autumn needs funding for three years, which is well beyond the two years deadline for exit negotiations, should Article 50 be triggered in the autumn. So the upshot is that there is only so much that universities alone can now do to reduce the insecurity faced by prospective EU students and the resulting planning insecurity about student intake, and we need the help of government here. Such help in the form of longer-term pledges might be very unlikely now, though, as government itself is in upheaval and the current cabinet might now feel able to make such pledges.
Tuition fees and fee income: As I understand it, EU students presently do not bring in extra fee income, as EU students have, under current treaties, to be treated the same as UK students and pay the same fees. So if fewer EU students come and the places are filled with UK students, then the fee income of the affected department remains constant. But of course this means fewer applicants to UK universities overall and/or lower entry requirements, the downsizing cycle that Jo Wolff wrote about, and less diverse student populations. But it may well be that universities long-term seize the opportunity to charge higher than UK fees to EU students, which might lower the number of EU students at British universities and change the socio-economic background of these students (especially if student loans become inaccessible), but might still increase the fee income of those universities that can attract students able and willing to pay the price. Looking at current non-EU undergraduate and postgraduate fees, these are certainly not fees that I would have been able or willing to pay when I came to the UK. Compared to other European programs, increased postgraduate fees would particularly make UK postgraduate education in philosophy much less attractive to EU applicants, and we would seriously lose out on many good students as a result, even if we end up not losing out on fee income. Even the most desired programs might not be spared from this, unless they offset the cost by increasing spending on scholarships. Conversely, depending on what happens in EU philosophy graduate programs, this effect might also bring competing EU programs to higher prominence in the field overall.
Job market: On the academic job market, the insecurity about student numbers, even if they end up not dropping at all, might lead those universities and departments most at risk to stop advertising new permanent posts and fill any vacancies with philosophers on temporary contracts, to give them the space to quickly downsize should student numbers actually drop. The people who would have got the permanent jobs might then go to other EU countries or the US instead. And longer-term, a less secure job market in the UK will also make UK postgraduate programs less attractive to EU students, for whom a UK degree is, so far, also a way of becoming more competitive in a more promising job market than in many other European countries. It would be interesting to hear from those involved in such planning decisions how likely this prospect might be.Report
Next to students, there is also the question of recruitment of faculty members from the EU. The UK has currently one of the most open markets in Europe in its academic recruitment. See here for a (somewhat dated) source saying about 1/4 of academic faculty are non-UK citizens http://www.eui.eu/ProgrammesAndFellowships/AcademicCareersObservatory/AcademicCareersbyCountry/UnitedKingdom.aspx. The UK also has academic excellence, a high proportion of ERC grants, etc., making it a very attractive country for other EU nationals to build their academic career. We don’t know yet what a Brexit vote will mean for this workforce in the long term. The EU candidates may conclude that they are not particularly welcome (given that the successful Leave campaign capitalised on fear of immigration). They may also not feel much like working in a small, isolated state separate from the bigger EU, especially if it means the hassle of visas etc each time they go out of the country or have family visiting.Report
It may be premature to discuss the effects of Brexit. What has become clear in the course of today (Sunday 24 June) is that important elements of the British establishment are not prepared to accept it without an almighty fight. No one can know how the battle will end. But the track record of populist insurrections against the powers-that-be in Britain is poor.Report
Of greater potential impact perhaps is that university managements will regard the ensuing economic uncertainty as a further opportunity to push their agenda of creating a ‘fluid and agile’ workforce – which will mean more fixed-term and zero-hours contracts. That will apply across disciplines of course but those schools/depts of philosophy heavily dependent on ‘service’ teaching can expect significant pressure in that direction.
And the potential impact of the loss of ERC income on specific schools in the run up to REF should not be dismissed – I would anticipate a number of ‘restructurings’ with associated ‘voluntary’ (and not so voluntary redundancies).
And we’re already seeing the emergence of a hostile and xenophobic atmosphere as anyone deemed not to be British (including, of course, ‘non-white’ UK citizens) are told ‘we won, you’re going home …’ – my son called us the day after the referendum to say that a friend of his had been verbally and physically assaulted for being ‘am immigrant’. She’s a student from South Korea.
As for this being a ‘popular insurrection’ against the powers-that-be, please give us all a break!! (A ‘popular insurrection’ led by an Etonian, a current Tory minister and a former commodity broker turned crypto-fascist …??!!)Report
Steven: populist (NB: ‘ist’ not ‘ar’) insurrections are often led by disaffected or frustrated members of the elite. The social background of Sir Oswald Mosley, 6th Baronet, was much smarter than Johnson’s.
Have you read Johnson’s column in the Telegraph today? He makes it clear that he wants the UK to remain part of the EEA. Assuming he becomes PM, that will be Government policy. But the EU controls admission to the EEA. So, at some point, a Johnson Government will argue as follows: by triggering Art 50, we start a timetable which may lead to our being locked out of the EEA for a period, which would be economically catastrophic. So we had better not trigger it after all.
So I still don’t see Brexit as anywhere near certain. The main risks are now a strong UKIP showing in the election that must soon come, or the other 27 states finding some way of throwing us out. One could hardly blame them.
All that said, I fully agree with you, Jo, and Katherine that what has already happened is *very* bad for the universities. Dark forces have indeed been encouraged which will make international student recruitment (whether from the EU or not) vastly harder. And (depending in part on sentiment in the markets) there may well have to be an emergency budget to impose swingeing spending cuts.Report
” At the same time, I suspect the folks who voted for Brexit aren’t too worried about study abroad. They likely didn’t go to college, are underemployed or jobless and feel left behind by globalization. ”
What an idiotic and inflammatory remark.
There’s too much of this arrogant angry knee-jerk nonsense flying about.Report
As we British academics face a bleak future, let us take what comfort we can from an unexpected demonstration of our influence.
Just beneath Boris Johnson’s column in today Telegraph is one by Vernon Bogdanor, now Professor of Government at King’s College, London, but for many years the politics tutor at Brasenose College, Oxford, where one of his pupils was the young David Cameron. Bogdanor extols the referendum for having confirmed a view he has long advocated — that the people (speaking through referendums) constitute a ‘third chamber’ of Parliament, superior to both the Commons and the Lords. ‘The sovereignty of the people’, he crows in his peroration, ‘trumps the sovereignty of Parliament’ (presumably he means the other two chambers).
Well, it’s a view, as Peter Strawson used to say. But it’s a very un-Tory view, and one must wonder if Cameron’s fateful decision to call this referendum was in some way influenced by it. Real Tories, insofar as I understand them, follow Edmund Burke in regarding referendums as the work of the devil, wicked attempts to constrain the judgement and conscience of MPs. Had the young Cameron studied a few doors down the High Street, at The Queen’s College, and sat at the feet of Robert Blake, its then Provost, he would have heard that echt Tory message: ‘Never call a referendum!’ And the future of the UK, and perhaps the future of Europe, might well have been very different.Report