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Government publishes Brexit action plan for FE

Around 7 per cent of Scotland's college students are EU nationals from outside the UK

brexit international immigration government education FE HE colleges scotland

Around 7 per cent of Scotland's college students are EU nationals from outside the UK

The Scottish government has published a Brexit action plan for further and higher education, which sets out its concerns and the measures it plans to take to mitigate the impact of Brexit on the sector.

EU exit: action plan for further and higher education states that Brexit brings “unwelcome uncertainty to the many EU citizens working in our colleges and universities”, and that it “may mean fewer EU students and researchers will come to Scotland”.

It states that Scotland needs to “protect Scottish students and researchers currently in Europe”, and that “Scotland remains open for collaboration with our European friends and partners”. Brexit could present challenges to Scotland’s workforce, it stresses.

Read more: Scotland's colleges set out five-year plan

In depth: UK college sector launches post-Brexit blueprint

Background: Schools will be left 'exposed' by Brexit

'No clarity'

In a statement in parliament yesterday, FE, HE and science minister Richard Lochhead said there was still no clarity where the UK would be in 15 days' time. He said the government was doing all it could to make sure colleges and universities were continuing to thrive.

“It is utter madness the UK government is willing to damage the success and the rich cultural vein that adds so much to academic life,” he said, citing the hundreds of students and staff working and studying in Scotland’s colleges and universities.

Brexit could lead to “a loss of talent, a loss of access to EU programmes and a loss of reputation on the global stage” for these institutions, he said, adding this was made worse by “the UK government’s draconian approach to education”.

He said there were immediate challenges as a result of the UK’s impending exit from the European Union that needed to be addressed “as a matter of urgency”. The government had therefore published a Brexit action plan and had written to principals of colleges and universities to highlight the work they were doing. “We will continue to make the case, passionately, for the benefit of EU membership,” said Mr Lochhead.

'Hugely concerning'

Shona Struthers, chief executive of Colleges Scotland, said the repercussions of Brexit were “hugely concerning” for the college sector. “More than 16,000 non-UK EU nationals enrolled in Scottish colleges in 2016-17 – approximately 7 per cent of college students – and the outcomes of the UK withdrawing from the EU could adversely affect their ability or desire to remain at college and deter other EU citizens from enrolling in future,” said Ms Struthers.  

She added that Scottish colleges had greatly benefitted from EU funding programmes, and it was “currently unclear what will replace those when the UK leaves the EU – as it is currently scheduled to do on 29 March 2019”.  “We are urging clarity from the UK government on the future funding of Erasmus+ and other European-funded programmes pertinent to the college sector after the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

“EU funding helps Scotland’s colleges deliver high-quality courses which are advantageous to students, colleges, Scotland’s economy and our wider society. Through the Developing Scotland’s Workforce and Youth Employment Initiative, some £66 million of EU finance was invested in our colleges from 2015 to 2018, and that investment often focused on those most distant from the workforce, so we are seeking reassurances around how this investment will be replaced by the UK and Scottish governments post-Brexit.”

Ms Struthers said the college sector was urging the UK government to reintroduce a post-study work visa for graduates or enable the Scottish government to introduce a similar scheme. “We want to ensure that Brexit does not diminish the college sector’s capacity to continue delivering high-quality learning and skills to our learners and providing employers with the skilled workforce required to support inclusive, sustainable economic growth and increase productivity.”

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