Tribal Group Blog

Tribal Group Blog

A vote to leave – what's the outlook for the education sector?

Posted by Nathaniel Harvatt on June 28, 2016

Britain’s decision to leave the European Union was a shock to many, and will certainly have significant and far-reaching implications for the future of our country. In a previous post we looked at the differing views for those who wanted to leave and those who wanted to remain, and what a Brexit would mean for education.

Now we have the result, what has been the reaction from the education sector, and what could this mean for the future?

Higher Education

Universities UK , a strong supporter to remain in the EU, has said the result of the referendum will create significant challenges for universities and, although the exit process will be gradual, will be an opportunity to influence future policy.

Others have called for calm heads. Whilst the result will come as a bitter blow on a personal as well as professional level for many within the higher education sector, there will be a point when the dust settles on government changes, the value of the pound stabilises and work will begin to make the positive case for Britain’s future outside of the European Union.

As Ant Bagshaw wrote for WonkHE, “We need a strong higher education system now more than ever. We need universities to apply their expertise in the period of Brexit negotiation to unpick the consequences of the thousands of micro decisions lying beneath the macro headline.”

The Russell Group also recognised that leaving the European Union has created significant uncertainty for their leading universities. The free movement of talent, the networks, collaborations, critical mass of research activity and funding from EU membership have played a crucial part in the success of Russell Group universities. They will be working closely with the Government to secure the best deal for universities from the negotiations to come so that they can continue to form productive collaborations across Europe.

What about the Higher Education and Research Bill? Best case scenario: there’s continuity of the ministerial responsibilities in BIS and the Bill receives parliamentary scrutiny which shapes it into a better piece of legislation. Worst case: the whole thing is shelved and the sector is faced with the attention given to the Brexit fall-out in addition to the disappearing prospect of overdue legislation for the advancement of the sector.

Universities in Scotland will now no doubt be bracing for impact having the added uncertainty caused by the prospect of a second independence referendum. Scottish universities receive over £500 million of EU research funding, nearly half of which goes to the University of Edinburgh.

UK higher education is in good health and, although there may be justified short-term disappointment, it seems that universities will play an essential role going forward.

Further Education

Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “Specific areas of concern relate to the money pledged for training via the European Social Fund (ESF) and the Skills Minister Nick Boles’ comments that the apprenticeship levy may need to be postponed.”

Given the Skills Minister’s comments, doubt is being thrown on the viability for the levy due to be launched next April. This has led to sector leaders calling for clarity on whether the Government will still press ahead with apprenticeship levy plans.

Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), said:

“We believe that the scheduled April 2017 start for the apprenticeship levy should not be delayed. If anything, the referendum result means that a skilled British workforce will be needed more than ever, so the target of 3 million apprenticeship starts by 2020 takes on a new significance.”

David Hughes, chief executive at the Learning and Work Institute, said “we are in a period of great uncertainty across many areas of society and the economy. It is too early to properly understand what this might mean for the FE sector although there are clearly some obvious questions about transition from funding through the European Social Fund and Erasmus as well as critical issues about EU students and their status in the future. Prior to the vote there was already some unease about the lack of details about apprenticeship reforms; now we need decisive action from BIS to provide certainty about the reforms. More delays will lead to more caution by colleges, providers and employers and the result will be people missing out on apprenticeship opportunities.”

There is also wider concern about education and skills funding. Chancellor George Osborne published a draft budget before the referendum reflecting on what would happen with public finances in the event of Brexit, which indicated education funding could be drastically cut by £1.15bn.

A great deal of uncertainty and perhaps it is a little too early to tell what will happen. For the time being it will be business as usual.


Questions have been raised about the impact of today’s vote to leave the European Union on the Government’s education policies. Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, told Schools Week: “The result of the EU referendum and change in Number 10 will have huge ramifications for the country. For school leaders, there will be concerns around the gulf in aspirations between the generations. School leaders will of course do their best to discuss the result calmly and clearly in schools.

“They will also be worried that time, energy and attention will focus on the EU at a time when the education system needs attention. The Government will be distracted from dealing with the chaotic assessment system, the unfair funding arrangements and the crisis we are seeing in recruitment.

“We will be working constructively with the Government to ensure that the transition is as smooth as possible and that the interests of schools, colleges and young people are safeguarded."

Perhaps these worries and frustrations can be channelled into positive action. Schools are the places in which we shape our future. Teachers and school leaders can help young people make sense of these dramatic changes and help to build new plans.

Overall it is a picture of uncertainty, there is a need for clarity, and many have genuine concern for the future. With David Cameron announcing he is stepping down as Prime Minister and that he wants a new Conservative leader and Prime Minister by the start of the Conservative Party Conference in October, a leadership contest has begun.

The race to be the next Prime Minister and the fallout from the decision to leave the European Union are sure to dominate not only our headlines but much of the Government’s time and energy, leaving little remaining to progress some of the huge and fundamental changes to our education sector already in motion. We all need to be prepared for delays and further changes over the coming weeks and months.

Topics: Higher Education, Further Education, Skills, Training and Employability, Schools & Early Years

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Written by Nathaniel Harvatt