In higher education, Global Britain is alive and well. Despite Project Fear’s continued attempts to talk down our nation, the UK dominates world rankings in a whole host of sectors – the most apparent being our universities.
Take a look at the world university rankings and you’ll be inundated with both American and British institutions, with a sprinkling of Asian and Antipodean institutions alongside. In the top 50, France is the only European Union Member State represented, with France’s Ecole normale supérieure, Paris (ENS) leading the EU pack down in 43rd place. The UK, however, has 9 universities in the top 50 – 4 in the top 10!
The UK quite literally leads the world in higher education. The proof is in the pudding.
In the 2016-17 academic year, 42% of all international postgraduate students were from outside the EU, with China alone sending just shy of 100,000 students here every year. This can hardly be a surprise, when English is spoken by 1.5 billion people across the globe, and our traditions in research and innovation rival the best of them. Britain is 2nd in the world for Nobel Laureates, ranking ahead of our European friends and behind only America – whose model for higher education originated from Britain.
Universities across the United Kingdom are not merely maintaining existing international ties, but are striking new ones, even while the final Brexit deal is being negotiated and despite the overwhelming Remain vote from academics. The University of Cambridge – which is currently ranked 5th best in the world – has just announced a new partnership with Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU), one of Germany’s oldest and most prestigious universities. In their statement, Cambridge University heralded the new strategic partnership as part of the ‘vital and ongoing relationship between British universities and their peer institutions across the EU in a post-Brexit landscape’. The formal launch of this partnership will take place in 2019, after we have legally left the EU. While the German Government may have no confidence in post-Brexit Britain, leading German research institutions clearly do.
Similar Memorandums of Understanding have been issued to open UK campuses in, of all places, Egypt as well as the De Montfort University in Leicester, which has now opened a new office in Portugal. In fact, 82% of UK higher education providers offer degree programs abroad.
All this makes higher education one of Britain’s greatest contributions to the global economy and makes us an attractive destination for highly skilled immigrants. International students make a net contribution of £31.3 billion to our economy – this includes paying a higher tuition fee, renting student accommodation, and being active consumers of local goods and services whilst living in the country.
The restrictions tying our hands in the Free Trade Agreement negotiations with the EU, do not restrict our ability to unilaterally make education policy, or work on a bilateral basis with governments and private institutions all over the world. The Department of Education would do well to mirror our national inventiveness in their approach to global research partnerships.
As we continue to extricate ourselves from the various EU institutions which have shackled us for the last few decades, questions will be raised about our place in Erasmus+. This is the international student exchange scheme - run by the EU in conjunction with national governments - which allows UK students to study abroad for part of their degree and receive EU-funded grants. Likewise, international students are able to come to Britain here for part of their studies.
Whilst the majority of EU structures are not worth remaining in, Erasmus+ is different. The sole reason is the active participation of non-EU nations in the programme, without the same loss of sovereignty which membership of, say, the Single Market entitles. Erasmus+ participants include students from all EU Member States, but also from non-EU European nations like Turkey, Iceland and Norway. There is also a 2nd tier of participants – ‘partner countries’ – which have more specific access to Erasmus+. Partner countries include the very un-European nations of Israel, Morocco, and Tunisia.
We categorically do not need to be within the EU or accept Freedom of Movement in order to benefit from education collaboration and exchange programmes with some of the best research intuitions across the Continent. Until 2020 we will remain a full member of Erasmus+, and the Government is enthusiastic about negotiating special status for the UK in the future. A monetary contribution would likely be needed to make up the losses in the EU Budget following our departure. However, the net financial benefit of international collaboration and exchange makes this a price we should easily be able to negotiate - not least because of the significant financial contribution we made to the programme as an EU Member State.
In the 2016 EU Referendum 17.4 million Britons stunned the world by voting toGet Britain Out of the EU. Each and every ballot cast for ‘Leave’ was a repudiation of Project Fear, when the elites in Westminster and Brussels were talking down Britain’s international influence. They were wrong then - and they have been proven wrong every week since. The world and Great Britain want a truly Global Britain, and we are more than prepared to provide it.