There has been a lot of media talk lately – some might say too much – of how the forthcoming EU Referendum will impact all manner of things, from the economy and British business to our pensions, jobs and even our culture. But we think the potential impact on our education system is also huge. If, that is, the ‘leave’ campaign wins out.

Brexit UK EU flag - how leaving the European Union could spell bad news for students and British universities

Back to basics: What is the EU referendum?

The referendum is a vote that will take place on 23 June to decide whether Britain remains in or leaves the European Union, an economic and political partnership of 28 European countries.

We’re having the referendum essentially because David Cameron agreed he would hold one if he was voted back in as Prime Minister. This was in response to pressure from many MPs who bemoaned the fact there hadn’t been a public say on Europe since the 1978 referendum, where the British public voted to stay in the EU.

What it means for our universities and student communities

We can’t be 100% sure of the true ramifications of an EU exit – or Brexit as it’s commonly termed – but there are certainly danger signs that it could lead to a break-up in relationships between organisations in the UK and other European countries. That goes for our education institutions just the same as it does British businesses.

It brings into question the future of students being able to study overseas, or for us to welcome international students to our shores. Talented geography post grads wanting to carry out research projects in northern Italy may find it not so easy, or not so affordable, due to weaker working relationships between universities.

In a world of increasing social mobility, equal opportunity and liberty, that seems crazy. Do we really want to go marching back to the dark ages and create barriers between ambitious students and the best, most relevant education they deserve?

It’s not about the UK, it’s about the world

Cutting ourselves off from the rest of Europe could be just the first backwards step. It may also in turn dilute our relationships with education systems and institutions around the globe.

Education is a universal concept. Creating great institutions that harness talent and develop great people is not something we should put geographical restrictions on. We should be looking to gather the very best students and teachers in each academic discipline, regardless of where they’re from, or indeed how much money they have, so they can learn and grow together in a brilliant learning environment.

Campaigning for the student vote

Some reports indicate that students are most likely to vote for the UK to remain in the EU, as much as 81% voting ‘Remain’ in one particular survey. But the ‘stay’ campaigners are fearful that many students won’t actually get to vote. Recent research highlighted the fact that one in five are only registered to vote where they study and yet the vote will take place out of term time.

There’s also a fairly high proportion of students who are unaware when the vote is – 54% didn’t know it was in the month of June – and so turnout from students could be low overall on the day, for a variety of cumulative reasons.

It would be a pity if the Remain camp failed to engage with such a vast chunk of the voting population, one which could have a significant say on the outcome of the referendum and the future of our education system.

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