Brexit: The aftermath

British varsities fear funding will take hit

People entering the Great Court of Cambridge University's Trinity College in a file photo taken in 2009.
People entering the Great Court of Cambridge University's Trinity College in a file photo taken in 2009.PHOTO: AFP

Uncertainty over research grants and exchange programmes

CAMBRIDGE (Britain) • The shock result of the Brexit referendum has left universities across Britain worried about its impact, whether on exchange programmes or research funding.

In Cambridge, south-east England, students at the world-famous university's 31 colleges have left for the summer break, but among the teaching staff the word Brexit is on everyone's lips.

"It's the only topic of conversation, even a week later," master of Churchill College Athene Donald told Agence France-Presse, adding that it was still "far too early to know what the consequences are going to be".

The stakes, for Cambridge and other colleges across the country, are high: More than 125,000 European students were enrolled this year in British universities, or 5 per cent of the total, while 15 per cent of academic staff come from other European Union countries, according to Universities UK.


British universities received £836 million (S$1.5 billion ) in subsidies and research contracts in the 2014-15 academic year alone.

In the wake of the June 23 referendum, numerous universities have sought to reassure their students from other EU countries, notably on the question of tuition fees.

EU students have until now not paid the same fees as their counterparts from elsewhere in the world, who have to stump up for International Status fees, which can be much higher.

"In 2016-17, the fees will be the same, and you will still have access to the government loan" as do British students on Home Fee status, said Mr Michael Arthur, president of University College London, in a video posted on YouTube aimed at European students.

"If you're thinking of coming to study with us after that time... we believe that nothing will have changed then either," he said, while adding: "We're seeking clarifications on that from the government at the moment."

Universities Minister Jo Johnson is also seeking to reassure them. "UK welcomes EU students. Current students and this autumn's applicants will continue to receive student finance for duration of their course," he tweeted after the shock Brexit vote.

Outside the EU, Britain will also have to renegotiate its participation in the Erasmus programme, to which more than 200,000 British students have signed up.

"We got e-mails from British students panicked after the referendum," said Ms Dolores Sobrino of France's prestigious Universite Paris-Sorbonne, where 27 per cent of Erasmus students are from Britain.

"We told them they don't need to worry because their registration (at the Sorbonne) is not in question at the moment," she said.

"Nevertheless, the problem could emerge in coming years, if Britain were to leave the Erasmus programme."

Back at Churchill College, its head said: "One can imagine a situation where it is not (as) easy for European students to come here.

"But, having said that, we'll still have huge numbers of Chinese, American and Indian students. I do not expect this university to cease to be a global university."


More reports on Britain's EU referendum online at

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2016, with the headline 'British varsities fear funding will take hit'. Print Edition | Subscribe