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Many issues await the attention of the new universities minister

In a week when the government reshuffled its cabinet, HE issues that made headlines gave the newly-appointed universities minister a taste of things to come, says Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive of the Institute of Student Employers .

Storm clouds are gathering over UK universities

The past week’s events and news are a sign of turbulent times for UK universities, warns Nicola Owen, Deputy Chief Executive (Operations) at Lancaster University.

The UK must look after its global talent

Mike Ratcliffe, academic registrar at Nottingham Trent University, reflects on issues emerging from a packed week of higher education news.

Student complaints rise by nearly 21% in a year

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for higher education has reported almost a 21 per cent rise in the number of complaints it received from students last year – rising to their highest ever level at 2,371.

Johnson seeks to calm sector fears over Brexit

Universities Minister Jo Johnson has sought to reassure the higher education sector over the implications of Britain’s referendum vote to leave the European Union.

The government “is determined to ensure that the UK continues to play a leading role in European and international research”, he said in a statement.

The minister said the many questions about how the vote would affect higher education and research would “need to be considered as part of wider discussions about the UK’s future relationship with the EU”.

But he added: “The UK remains a member of the EU, and we continue to meet our obligations and receive relevant funding.”

As the UK university sector weighs up the likely impact of the vote, the message from Mr Johnson was that although there was much to be decided, it was also business as usual.

The government would continue, he said, to “take forward” the Higher Education and Research Bill and its programme would carry on.

The minister – who is the brother of chief Brexiteer Boris Johnson – said in a speech to scientists in Westminster that it was even more important that the government worked with the HE community on the Bill.

The statement echoed the announcement made yesterday that EU students currently studying in the UK or those due to begin courses this autumn would keep their entitlement to tuition fee loans for the duration of their courses.

It also says there will be “no immediate changes” for students and staff from the EU here, nor for  Britons in other EU states.

On the Erasmus programme, Mr Johnson says: “The referendum result does not affect students studying in the EU, beneficiaries of Erasmus+ or those considering applying in 2017.”

But he added that the UK’s future access to the Erasmus+ programme would “be determined as a part of wider discussions with the EU”.

With £1.2 billion a year at stake in EU research grants, the issue of funding looms large for British universities, together with that of international collaborations. In the run-up to the referendum, “Leave” campaigners had said that those receiving money from the EU “would continue to do so”, with funding being covered by the government.

In terms of future direct funding from the EU though, experts are suggesting that access to this would depend on the government agreeing to free movement of EU citizens.

Mr Johnson said the referendum result would have “no immediate effect on those applying to or participating in Horizon 2020” and that “the future of UK access to European science funding will be a matter for future discussions”.

Jo Johnson
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