What is the potential impact of Brexit on education in the UK?

The Impact of Brexit on Education

June 20th 2016

What is the potential impact of Brexit on education in the UK?

Baroness Warsi has switched sides from leave to remain, proving that with four days to go until the EU referendum, not everyone is decided. The latest polls suggest remain is pulling back into the lead but a poll is pure speculation and the fact is there’s still everything to play for.  Bookies have slashed the price of remaining - a much stronger tell.

I work in private education and like many people in the teaching profession - both state and independent sectors – I’m broadly in the remain camp.  Without a crystal ball, no one really knows what will happen if we vote Brexit on Thursday. Education Secretary Nicky Morgan’s fear that children will leave school without a word of French is perhaps a little unfounded but it’s clear there will be some limit on the freedom of movement throughout Europe and for me that’s a bad thing.  Just think: a two-day school trip to Calais could become a bureaucratic nightmare if everyone needs visas to hop across the Channel.

There has been confusion over Brexit’s impact on school places. Leavers say controlling migration could free up places currently taken by EU children. Yet remainers argue these children (or rather their parents) contribute to the public finances and without this wealth there will be a big hole in the coffers, with education suffering as a result.

Yet if we leave Europe, will our teachers leave too? Many schools employ foreigners and around 14% of university staff are from Europe. No one knows what Brexit would mean but it can offer no guarantee of immigration status. If EU nationals working in Britain lose certain rights, such as free NHS care, will they up sticks and go home? Schools claim they will lose 400,000 teachers if the Brexiteers win.  We already have a shortage of quality teachers - this would only exacerbate the problem.  If the quality of teaching dips, parents who pay for education will start to look elsewhere.

And what of the pupils? Some 5,000 children from EU countries are currently at British boarding schools. Brexit would add bureaucracy and complexity to their travel arrangements and make parents reconsider. Around 5.5% of higher education students are from EU countries.  An exodus of international students would mean a vast net outflow of money from the UK from associated industries: student accommodation, cultural tourist events to name but a few.

Yet voting leave would probably have some benefits. No doubt, the pound would weaken, which could make private education more affordable to international parents.  There is an argument that this would cause an increase in the level of international applications as a result of this new found competitivenes; and a knock on effect to all the associated trades.  However, the more likely outcome is, the schools in question will see an opportunity to increase fees to take the slack in currency weakness - and to bolster profits.  After all, they are running a business too.  This would lead to an even higher fee level for domestic families and even less affordability for domestic children to attend the very best institutions.

I run a private tuition company that works with the children and families with the intention of passing the entrance exams for top independent schools. We’re as British as James Bond and Wimbledon but when it comes to the referendum, I’m feeling decidedly European. Many of our students are from overseas and although they tend to come from countries outside of Europe their families operate globally. They might live in India, trade in Germany, moor their yacht in Monaco and have older children studying at the Sorbonne. The British education system ­– from prep schools to post-graduate – has always lured wealthy foreigners to our country but will Brexit force a sea change with families look to America and Australia for their schooling? I don’t know but it’s not a risk I’m willing to take so I’m staying in.



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