Exiting the EU and UK Higher Education

Implications for Asia


  1. Brexit provides threats and costs but also opportunities and benefits[i], including for universities and research[ii].
  2. Universities which are too inward looking, reactive and unable or unwilling to grasp the new challenges will suffer the most.
  3. Leading universities which are more outward looking, truly global in reality and not just rhetoric, will gain advantages.

Contextual information

The situation for UK universities in a post-Brexit scenario has inter-related key points to provide needed context, grounding and balance to add light to the debates.[iii]

  • Outcomes are not certain or agreed. For example, during the recent Education Select Committee day at Oxford on 11 January 2017, the Chair pushed witnesses for more evidence and facts for their assertions, “but what came back most often was even more questions.”[iv] The recent report that Brexit had no effect on the decision for Danish research investment at Oxford University is another example[v];
  • Universities are old, long-term institutions that have persisted through many different regimes, contexts and situations before. Brexit should be taken as just another example. Indeed, research obviously occurred pre-EU membership;
  • EU cultural, ethical and philosophical environments and regulatory systems have produced constraints and restrictions holding back UK sciences[vi];
  • Universities receive research funding from a range of sources, not just from the EU. For example, Imperial College receives 86 percent of its research funding from non-EU sources,[vii], while 84 percent of academics at UK universities are non-EU[viii] in 2015-16[ix];
  • There are many examples of different forms of collaboration and links, including course delivery and satellite campuses, between UK and Asian universities. However, the reverse process should also be considered and engendered. This could involve Asian universities setting up in the UK. One leading example would be Peking University HSBC Business School in Oxford[x].

Recommendations To Consider

  1. Publicity to show UK universities, academics and research will remain ‘open for business’ after Brexit.
  2. Universities to move beyond the sector’s standard negative mantra of ‘all is lost’ and reactive ‘what is the government going to do about replacing EU funds’ cry to actually thinking for themselves tactically and strategically about the future, options and grasping opportunities.
  3. Encourage universities to break out of too easy, knee-jerk, negative and inward looking views and be more pro-active, thoughtful and international.
  4. Support universities to truly internationalise more and recognise global opportunities, such as with China and Asia as well as the US.
  5. Prompt universities to see Asian countries, with their recognition and deep cultural support for education matched by huge investments in it, as providing opportunities for those with the required foresight and ambition to work in building and supporting existing academic collaborations and networks and also to forge new ones.


[i] l. Lilico ‘Escape from the single market brings freedom and flexibility, Financial Times, 11/1/17;  S. Yassukovich ‘The City has nothing to fear from Brexit’, Financial Times, 12/1/17

[ii] J. Bell ‘Brexit offers opportunities for UK scientistsFinancial Times, 25/8/17

[iii] C Rowley “UK universities’ chance to be truly international‘ Financial Times, 3/1/17

[iv] S. Coughlan ‘Oxford academics warn of Brexit “disaster”’ BBC News, 11/1/17

[v] C.Cookson ‘Oxford university to host £115m diabetes research centre’ Financial Times, 30/1/17

[vi] J. Bell ‘Brexit offers opportunities for UK scientistsFinancial Times, 25/8/17

[vii] H. Warrell ‘Imperial College president calls for clarity on post-Brexit visasFinancial Times, 28/12/16

[viii] J.Morgan ‘UK HE ‘should push for sector-specific’ Brexit dealTHE, 25 Jan 2017

[ix] HESA staff numbers and characteristics

[x] Peking University HSBC Business School Oxford Campus to open

(Note that all links to the Financial Times require paid subscription to view the articles)


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