The oven has been pre-heated. The recipe has been selected and the ingredients mixed. But with only five weeks (and counting) until the end of the 2020 "transition period", a UK-EU trade deal isn’t quite oven-ready. Parliamentary wranglings over the Internal Market Bill, the possible Biden effect and trade sticking points (fish, fish and more fish) mean a deal needs extra cooking time.
For much of 2020, Brexit has taken a back seat to Covid-19 – an arguably more existential threat to us all – but it hasn’t gone away. So, what do colleges, with 101 other things on their to-do lists, need to prepare for life outside of the European Union? Here are five points for colleges to consider (deal or no deal), and none of them involves fish.
The first change is that freedom of movement between the UK and the EU will end. From 1 January 2021, EEA nationals living in the EU and looking to study or work at a UK college may need a visa, and colleges may need a licence to sponsor their study or employment. The Association of Colleges estimates that 40 per cent of UK colleges are currently licenced student sponsors and around 25 per cent are Tier 2 (skilled worker) sponsors. Now is a good time for colleges to look at whether their student and staff recruitment patterns mean they should apply for a student or a Tier 2 sponsor licence.
However, not all EEA nationals will need a visa. The UK immigration system will allow EEA nationals to come and study in the UK at accredited institutions for up to six months as a visitor, coming through the airport e-gates on arrival. Most importantly, provision was made to protect the citizens’ rights of EEA nationals already living in the UK (or who arrive before 31 December 2020) through their application to the EU Settled Status Scheme. The scheme is open until 30 June 2021 and nearly 4 million EEA nationals in the UK now have settled or pre-settled status. It’s important to avoid discrimination by making no changes to right to study or right to work checks until after the scheme closes. Colleges can support their EEA students and staff by reminding them to apply for settled status by the June deadline.
The second change is to eligibility for fees and funding. Nothing changes this academic year, but from the academic year 2021-22, EEA nationals will no longer be treated as home students unless they hold settled status or can evidence the right to legally reside in the UK. More detail on the funding rules is expected by the spring. Colleges can prepare now by looking at whether they will need to adjust their fee assessment processes and set tuition fee rates for fee-paying EEA nationals.
The third change is to the Erasmus+ programme. Over 100 UK colleges have benefitted from Erasmus+ funding – that’s one in three colleges – in the Erasmus+ programme cycle that started in 2014. Colleges have received approximately €99.7m in Erasmus+ funding for student and staff mobility. The tremendous benefits of Erasmus+ participation - particularly for disadvantaged college students - are well documented, but at this stage, we simply don’t know whether the UK will buy in to Erasmus+ from 2021. The official line is that all options are on the table, including a UK-developed "domestic alternative" with mobility possibly extending beyond the EU.
The fourth change is to another EU-funded programme, the European Social Fund (ESF). The UK government has promised that beyond 2020 a "shared prosperity fund" will replace ESF, although with different objectives. The government’s spending review referenced provision for the shared prosperity fund (and for educational mobility), with pilot projects starting over the next 12 months. This is a positive step. Once the detail is published it will become clearer how the new fund will help to "level up" and how it compares with ESF.
The fifth and final change relates to regulations impacting how colleges buy from or exchange data with the EU. The UK may charge tariffs on EU imports, meaning colleges need to prepare for extra red tape (and something called an EORI number) to clear goods at customs. From 2021, the UK will also be outside the EU GDPR zone. This could mean that data transfer between the UK and the EU requires legal cover via some lengthy contractual clauses. Once it’s known whether a deal is struck, it will be easier to know what steps colleges need to take in these two rather complex and tedious but important areas.
Emma Meredith is international director at the Association of Colleges