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Uncertainty order of the day for post-Brexit Britain

By Danny Harrington


That is the only certainty anyone can currently see in Britain as a whole today and education is no different from any other part of UK life.

In amongst all the various changes, potential changes and many unknowns, the new Secretary of State for Education, Justine Greening, has been given a mandate for both schools and higher education and the media are flinging about all kinds of suggestions about what ideas she may have and what policies the government may follow. This needs to be watched closely. With parliamentary opposition in disarray, another decade of Tory government is quite possible, some may say probable, so policies formed now may well be seen through.

Most of what she does will impact on “home” students. At school level, the usual political footballs are school “type”, curriculum content & structure, and how students are examined/accredited. For international students, the last couple of years have seen the consolidation of international versions of UK school qualifications and it seems they are now unlikely to change very much, at least for the next five years. The rest of it is irrelevant to international students.

In higher education there are two big ideas being floated by government and they are linked. The first is to allow more providers  to teach higher level qualifications. Effectively, make it easier to become a degree awarding institution. The other is to allow fee increases beyond the current GBP9,000/year cap. Allowing the second will encourage the first, so goes typical market-oriented thinking. The fees of course do not impact international students who already pay considerably more. What will be of interest is what impact this may have on the availability of courses and their quality. International students thinking of going to the UK for higher education should watch both the rule changes and market changes carefully. It is unfortunate that immigration has been such a strong part of the current debate and the Brexit decision. It has made it all but impossible to do anything about international student visa numbers and conditions. In my opinion, the UK made a terrible mistake removing the right to work after completing a degree and that advantage is now lost, for a good while at least, to other countries across the world which retain it.

There will be an interesting battle then between the government and the vested interests of the universities, not least because the universities are divided on which policies they back and which they do not. With the status of European students and research agreements now unknown, universities face great uncertainty in their budgets. Some see Brexit as positive, some negative. There is a real mix of opinion and approach – poor planning has meant many who assumed a Remain vote have not thought through the other scenarios, the situation is fluid and unknown for those that have, and anyway universities are very different from each other.

One silver lining for international students may be that UK universities value them even more and make more of an effort to reach out to them with enhanced local learning options, teacher support, access to services and the like. Watch this space.

Dulwich College Singapore

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