Education expert Harriet Harriss from the Royal College of Art sets out the issues facing both wannabe architects and the schools themselves following last week’s vote to leave the EU
What could Brexit mean for architectural education?
- EU students are likely to be reclassified as international students, with their fees rocketing to prohibitive levels. That and the UK student loan system might deny funding to EU students interested in pursuing postgraduate study. According to Universities UK, approximately 5.5 per cent of students studying in the UK are from elsewhere in the EU, so the UK economy stands to lose £3.7 billion and 34,000 jobs in local communities if they are discouraged from studying here.
- Fewer EU students studying in UK institutions will trigger university funding deficits that few financially straitened schools of architecture can afford. This loss of revenue will likely be passed on to UK students in the form of fee hikes, further exacerbating the limiting cost of education and denying even more working-class students access to higher education – a persistent and profession-shaming problem that helped contribute to this Brexit mess to begin with. Even ‘international’ students may think twice about studying in a country known for its racism, declining economy and blatant political stupidity. Instead, they will likely choose to pay their fee premiums to study in multicultural institutions in welcoming and tolerant countries, where they can build professional and personal networks with forward-thinking people from all over the world.
- Expulsion from the ERASMUS scheme (European Region Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students), as happened to Switzerland after it introduced immigration quotas. ERASMUS is one of the great, pan-European inventions of the 1990s, and our departure would deny EU students an affordable access to UK education, also imploding the opportunity for the 200,000 grant-enabled UK students per year who take advantage of it.
As Nigel Carrington, vice-chancellor of the University of the Arts London, identified, there has been a 50 per cent increase in the number of UK students applying for ERASMUS in the space of three years, revealing students’ inspiring and even humbling passion for international exchange and collaboration and their longing to remedy the disadvantage of being born in Europe’s most monolingual country.
- A massive academic brain drain. Higher education is one of the UK’s most internationalised workforces, and contributes £73 billion towards the UK economy each year – 16 times as much as architecture’s £4.33 billion. Approximately 14 per cent of UK academic staff are from the EU, with architecture schools often among the most diverse faculties. Without EU tutors, architecture schools will wind up insulated from other cultures, and the aesthetic richness and global relevance of the student work will no doubt suffer, too. As the chancellor of Oxford University has warned, new, complex and possibly costly visa arrangements for EU academics could mean the UK struggles to attract the best academic talent, affecting the standards of excellence in teaching and research for which UK higher education is globally recognised.
- The loss of £1 billion of research funding from Brussels received by UK academics each year. As Switzerland’s experience illustrates, EU research funding is expected to disappear very quickly and we will then have to pay to participate. Not only that, but we won’t be part of the discussions of what sort of research should be taking place, limiting our global influence, and innovation and market-development opportunities. Combining the removal of research funding with dwindling student numbers and even ‘English’ academics will feel the pressure to leave UK architecture schools, lured by the threat of redundancy and the better salaries and research prospects offered in the States, Australia and across the 27 European countries we’ve just voted ourselves out of.
EU research funding is expected to disappear very quickly
What can schools do?
- Make immediate, cast-iron assurances on fixed fees to EU students aiming to start three-year undergraduate programmes in the UK this September, and annex fee tariffs to EU students already enrolled, regardless of what unfolds over the next two years. Failing to do this may result in fewer arrivals this autumn, transfers and departures of existing EU students, and a net financial impact that further acerbates the funding crisis in schools.
- Start initiating independent EU university collaborations, partnerships and exchanges. Academics and students alike are about to lose their entitlement to live and work in 27 different European countries, so something needs to be done to try to claw back some of their professional and academic prospects. To think that only a year ago all we had to worry about was how to implement the Bologna mandate, which requires UK schools to reduce their training period to match that of our EU counterparts. Even though this is now in question, putting it in place anyway gives a clear message that we see repatriation as a matter of time, not a lost cause.
- Whatever individual schools choose to do, all of us have a vital role to play in demonstrating the value and relevance of architectural education and the profession, both to individuals and to society as a whole. In short, we – as a professional and academic union of architects – must be willing to stand up for our staff and students in the face of rising racism, anti-intellectualism and possible exclusion, ignoring the advice to sit quietly until the dust settles.
If there was ever a time to exhume a wobbly rehash of architectural heroism, this is surely the moment. As is usual when recession looms, architecture is one of the first sectors to get squarely punched in the face.
It is challenging enough to teach students important architecture skills and behaviours within increasingly under-resourced universities and in response to a changing practice environment. To teach Brexitecture to young people whose professional and life prospects have been substantially stripped away, will likely prove to be a whole other ball-game.