A view on Brexit from Paris

Nothing appeared in big bold letters on the screen as the audience tapped their interactive Wordcloud devices. We were in the centre of London at the Going Global conference this May, asking a panel of experts from London and Paris institutions to consider the Paris-London higher education scene leading up to and beyond Brexit. To open the debate – and in an attempt to find positive outcomes – we asked the audience to tell us words that came into their mind that could represent positive outcomes of Brexit. The result was not encouraging. However, the mood changed slowly as we debated the issues and asked each institution to outline their most important projects leading up to Brexit. At the end of the session, the same Wordcloud exercise produced Positive and Opportunity as the most repeated words.

Tim Gore - Going Global

So, is there an opportunity for higher education after the UK's decision to leave the European Union? When I discuss this with colleagues here in continental Europe, the immediate answer is always similar – it is difficult to see many advantages. However, going a little deeper reveals some interesting sub-text. Being a part of a regional bloc brings a lot of advantages, but it also leads to unintended outcomes. If you ask any UK university about their international strategy you will soon come across the interesting term 'Non-EU International'. What does that mean? It comes about by the nature of regionalism. EU students and staff are subject to different conditions than other international students and staff, thanks to the various multi-lateral agreements running through Europe – and the nature of research funding is also different outside of Europe. Therefore, it makes sense to partition EU and non-EU when a UK university thinks about the world.

Developing international strategies

Regions also allow framework agreements that are multilateral and automatic. UK institutions have access to Horizon 2020 research funding or Erasmus mobility grants because they are a part of the regional agreement. This requires no particular effort on the part of the individual university in setting up the agreements – they already exist. This is important because universities, like most organisations, have a limited capacity to do things that depend on expert staff and internal processes. Bilateral or targeted agreements between individual universities across borders are very different; each agreement consumes a large amount of resource and the type of resource they need is in very limited supply. International agreements involve the international team, legal advice, senior academic buy-in, and senior management buy-in. They involve processes that typically tie up a large number of senior staff in committees and internal processes, as well as an amount of international travel, which is neither cheap nor getting easier. Most universities have bottle necks in these processes because they only have one vice-chancellor, a small senior team, and a limited international team.

For this and other reasons (not least of which is EU versus international fees for students), Europe is often not high in UK universities' strategic priorities. Not because the research done with European colleagues is not important – it is extremely important; or not because European students are not a very welcome part of the international mix, because they are – and certainly European staff play a crucial role in British universities. But because other international priorities require more effort and are more difficult, and are therefore more prominent in strategies and effort exerted. European colleagues talk about this in different ways, but on occasion a strong word such as complacency seeps into the conversation. I do not personally think this is the case, but I can see why the perception might arise. So, on the positive side, many colleagues in France, Germany, Sweden, and across Europe report a great increase in interest and attention from their UK colleagues. They see this as an opportunity to recalibrate relationships and return to thorny issues that have not been adequately solved regionally, such as joint doctorates.

New opportunities for collaboration and innovation

As a UK institution based in Paris since the 19th century, the University of London Institute in Paris has a particular role to play both in continental Europe and in the UK. We grant UK degrees and follow a largely UK-based research model, but we also have close relationships with Parisian universities, scholars and students. We teach in both French and English, and have bilingual and bicultural staff. Our mission has always been about bridging the two education worlds. In this respect, we can play the role of laboratory for new ways of collaboration as we move towards a newly defined Europe.

The challenge for UK universities will be to ensure that their strategic aims continue to be served by their relationships with Europe. The UK will undoubtedly 'buy into' certain EU wide relationships, such as Horizon 2020 and Erasmus, but will need to think through all other aspects of the relationships. This is an opportunity to focus on things that really matter and an opportunity to innovate. If the UK truly does leave the EU, then Europe becomes a part of international for UK strategies – and this perhaps in itself is an opportunity to rethink and build more coherent strategic approaches.

ACU Internationalisation CommunityDr Tim Gore OBE is a Steering Committee member for the ACU's Internationalisation Community. As Chief Executive, he is responsible for the leadership of the University of London Institute in Paris. He has over 30 years' experience of leadership of a great variety of teams and projects in a number of cultural and linguistic settings in Europe and Asia. His main expertise is university strategy in an international context but he has also held diplomatic, business development, project management, marketing and lecturing roles. Dr Gore has lived and worked in Sudan, Egypt, Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai, Jordan, India, UK and France, working for 20 years for the British Council before joining the University of Greenwich and then the University of London.

Dr Gore wrote this blog following a panel session he designed and chaired at the British Council's Going Global 2017, entitled 'London-Paris: Building a new future in higher education'. The session bought together experts from both sides of the Channel to debate interventions, policies, programmes and innovations that can help build a renewed community of scholars spanning the two cities and spur new initiatives to help address future challenges.

Last modified on 13/09/2017
Tags: Member Communities, ACU Internationalisation Community, Internationalisation