Since the British voted to leave the European Union we have seen a variety of news reports focusing on how the move will affect the British educational system. In this short scan we share some of the conversations we have seen emerge in the past few weeks.
One strand of articles point out what the Brexit vote supposedly reveals about the overall quality of the British education system. According to the Evening Standard, the Chief Executive of Credit Suisse, Tidjane Thiam, said that the level of inequality he witnessed in Britain explained the outcome of the vote. Thiam argued that Britain should raise taxes to counteract the impact of globalization. According to an editorial in the Telegraph, the vote represents “an appetite among young people for a more internationalist approach to education.” As John Walmsley argues, three-quarters of 18-24 year olds voted to remain in the European Union, either out of a desire to live and travel throughout Europe, to help refugees, to effectively battle climate change, or access the European single market. Walmsley writes, “Even in an unstable modern world…young people simply do not have the same concerns with immigration, collaboration and pluralism that older generations have.” According to Peter Horrocks of The Open University, writing for The Times Higher Education (THE), the fact that the outcome of the vote correlated closely with percentage degree attainment shows a pressing need for a more inclusive and diverse higher education sector that offers the flexibility and support that students rightly demand, alongside specific policies to address their particular needs.”
Another strand of articles point to the implications of the Brexit vote. Russell Hobby, General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, argues in Schools Week that the short term impact of the vote will be “distraction and delay,” resulting in the disruption of policies that need the attention and focus of policymakers. Long term, Hobby shares his concern that the vote might serve as impetus for change in both leadership and education policy (for example, will funding for early childhood education remain a priority?). Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat, writing for the Huffington Post UK, argues that the most likely immediate implication will be a reduction in the number of EU students studying in the UK, citing the approximately 125,000 EU students studying in UK institutions, and the nearly 3.7 billion pounds and 380,000 jobs they contribute to the economy. These European students might be more likely in the future to choose non-UK universities to study in, such as those in Germany or the Netherlands. Rakhmat speculates that UK universities might end up recruiting more students from developing countries, such as China, India and Indonesia. This shift might influence educational outcomes as well, as many EU students arrive with an advanced educational background. In another article in the Huffington Post UK, Steve Spriggs agrees that British schools might suffer the loss of some 5,000 students from EU countries who currently attend British boarding schools. As he argues, “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.” However, Spriggs also raises a question about teachers, citing speculation that up to 400,000 teachers might be forced to leave the UK at a time when there is already a shortage of qualified teachers. On July 5th, NHT teachers organized a one-day strike to protest what they see as a crisis point. As Lola Okolosie argues in The Guardian, in addition to the unknown implications of the Brexit vote, teachers are concerned about the loss of jobs, cuts to per pupil spending, and the national commitment to make all schools academies by 2020.
Mark Tucker, president and Chief Executive Officer of the National Center on Education and the Economy, also provides one take on the implications of Brexit for education and the US election. As he puts it in a recent Washington Post article, “Just as in England, those with the least education are those who have been hurt most by globalization and free trade. They are most likely, as we see now in the way they are reacting to the candidacies of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, to reject not just the leaders of their parties but also the experts they think have ignored them and their interests.” He concludes, “The Brexit vote is a warning shot across our bow. Will we hear it?”