This article was first published on Huffington Post.
Grammar schools have been dominating the news agenda recently. Prime Minister Theresa May seems to be attempting to facilitate a genuine meritocratic society in education through selection by ability rather than money. However, we were told during the Referendum campaign our education system would collapse if the UK voted to leave the EU. The reality is – this is not happening!
Once the UK leaves the EU we will able to control all aspects of our education policy, and collaborate in areas which are mutually beneficial. This isn’t just pie-in-the-sky thinking, it is common sense for an outward-facing country in dealing with its European neighbours.
‘Project Fear’ claimed if we voted to leave the EU our universities would face financial ruin. We were told academics would flee the UK. We were told UK students would no longer be able to study abroad. False, false, false.
It was always clear leaving the EU would not hurt education in this country, as the UK doesn’t follow the EU in this area – it leads. UK universities dominate world university rankings along with the USA, unlike other EU Member States. No wonder the EU is working on its own ranking system in an attempt to cut grants to UK universities.
This is a view echoed by the Department for Education, which stated in 2014 “the UK Government does not believe that the EU approach to education policy coordination sufficiently recognises the variety and variation of experience and expertise in member states”.
The first policy which should be implemented the moment the UK leaves the EU should be ending the absurdity of Scottish tuition fees. This is the ridiculous situation where Scottish and EU students from outside the UK do not have to pay tuition fees in Scotland, whereas all the other students from the UK have to pay tuition fees in Scotland. Therefore, a French student pays no tuition fees in St Andrews, whereas an English student studying in St Andrews does. This is because EU law forbids discrimination on nationality grounds against nationals from other EU Member States, but does not cover discrimination within a Member State.
Additionally, under the same rules the UK Government is required to offer student loans to non-UK EU nationals. Why should the UK subsidise other EU nationals at all? After all, thousands of non-UK citizens fail to pay back loans the UK Government has given them.
These policies are also discriminatory. The UK charges students different fees for education depending on where they are from. We are forced to charge EU students the same fees as UK students, whereas non-EU students are charged an astronomical amount.
It is also clear the UK will continue to engage with its European neighbours, therefore leaving will not result in throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The UK will go on co-operating in mutually beneficial schemes.
One of these mutually beneficial schemes is the Erasmus+ programme. Erasmus+ is a programme allowing students from the UK to study in other countries. Even though this programme was set up by the EU, it is not limited to EU countries. Turkey is a full member of the Erasmus+ programme despite not being in the EU or the single market. All other countries in the world are able to participate in some actions under Erasmus+, but only if they meet the criteria – which most countries do.
Why would the EU wish to exclude the UK from Erasmus+? The EU does very well out of the UK being a member of the programme due to the excellence of our universities. Each year 25,000 EU students come to the UK on the programme, and only 14,000 UK students use it abroad. There is absolutely no reason why Erasmus+ will end once the UK leaves the EU.
The UK will continue with the Bologna Process, which covers over 40 countries. This is the standardisation of university education. As a result, university courses consist mainly of credits throughout the participating countries, allowing comparisons and transference.
Mutual recognition of qualifications will not disappear. Perhaps a sensible reform is needed of mutual sanctions which exist in theory, but not in practice.
In addition, the Horizon 2020 programme – the EU’s research and innovation programme – was one of UK universities’ main concerns post-Brexit. However, we have seen the UK Government underwrite all the EU’s pledges in this area in the short period since we voted ‘Leave’ on June 23rd.
Finally, we can end the disgraceful EU propaganda aimed at children and students. The EU produces and distributes material specifically aimed at children. This material is full of cartoons and games in glossy magazines, such as the publication “It’s a better life – How the EU’s single market benefits you.” The UK after Brexit will finally be able to comply with domestic law requiring political balance in schools.
The Brexit vote was about control; it was not about turning the clock back. There are some areas where international co-operation is beneficial, some areas where it is not. Brexit means we will be able to have total control over our education policy. The UK’s elected representatives will have the ability to decide in which areas the UK will co-operate and which areas it will not. The sooner we Get Britain Out of the EU the better.