EU Referendum: How will it affect FE and Skills?
With the EU referendum looming, many of you will be asking key questions about how the FE and skills sector could be affected, and most of you will struggle to find the answers you are looking for.
Perhaps more information about funding, enrolment and job prospects will be made available in the coming weeks, but unless “Brexit” becomes a reality, we can only speculate on what will happen to the sector as the Government remains tight-lipped on what exit negotiations would prioritise.
As an organisation, emfec is not planning to campaign for either side; however we have outlined below a range of relevant issues relating to the education and skills landscape to give you an idea of how they are currently being supported by the EU. The biggest threat facing these issues is the potential loss of EU funding and partnership, and it will be up to the UK Government to plug these funding gaps and to create new alliances and initiatives in order to provide sustainability to the sector.
One thing we urge our members and stakeholders to do is to encourage your students to register to vote. The latest polls reveal that young people are the key to the referendum outcome, and we feel it is important to give them clear and accurate information about how a vote to leave or a vote to remain may affect their futures, including access to education and training, and their job prospects.
The majority of funding for colleges and training providers is distributed by the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) and Education Funding Agency (EFA). The SFA distributes European Social Fund (ESF) funding on behalf of the UK government, with 107 providers including colleges and independent training providers receiving more than £305 million collectively in 2014/15.
The European Alliance for Apprenticeships launched in July 2013 brings together governments with key stakeholders to strengthen the quality, supply and image of apprenticeships across Europe. Organisations from all over Europe, including the UK, have made pledges to support the work of the alliance, including Apprenticeships 4 England, the Welsh Government, and Apprenticeships in Scotland.
The European Commission has supported the development of skills with initiatives including the Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs, which has supported the creation of almost 300,000 training courses and pledges to train more than 200,000 teachers.
The priorities of the European Social Fund (ESF) are to promote employment and support the labour market, promote social inclusion and invest in education, skills and lifelong learning. On top of the €80 million the ESF has budgeted for the period 2014 to 2020, an additional €3.2 billion has been allocated to the Youth Employment Initiative, which supports under 25s in areas of high unemployment, particularly those classed as not in employment, education or training (NEET).
The European Commission implements the European Agenda for Adult Learning, which highlights the need to increase participation, acquire new skills, and the need for personal development and fulfilment. The agenda aims to increase knowledge about successful policies, provide support and enable a better exchange of experiences between countries.
Access to education projects
The most widely known EU funded educational exchange project, Erasmus+, has been allocated €1 billion of funding to the UK over seven years, and 250,000 people are expected to undertake activities abroad funded by the programme.
The EU also provides funding for Education and Training 2020, a framework for exchanging best practice and disseminating what works across the EU member states, and the Eureka project, which brings together 17-year-olds from six European countries each year to plan a project while communicating to each other in a language other than their own.
There is no guarantee that the UK would still have access to these EU-funded projects if we were to leave the EU. It is worth noting that Switzerland, a non-EU member, previously had equal access to education projects in the EU but after their 2014 referendum about free movement of workers, this access was revoked. This meant Swiss universities were blocked from European research projects and Swiss students were denied access to the Erasmus exchange programme.
EU nationals living and working in the UK have been able to enrol on FE courses and apprenticeships on the same basis as UK citizens, providing three years’ ordinary residence. In the event of “Brexit”, the Government could decide to withdraw current arrangements which may affect enrolment figures for colleges which attract larger numbers of EU students. While figures for FE don’t appear to have been recorded, it is estimated that EU citizens studying at UK universities generate £37 billion for the UK economy.
Vice chancellors of 133 universities spoke out last year in favour of remaining in the EU, and it seems that all UK universities are advocating the same. The main concerns laid out by the vice chancellors relate to scientific research and graduate job prospects.
It is also considered likely that leaving the EU would have a negative effect on enrolment, particularly if EU citizen are reclassified as international students. It is worth noting, however, that the UK currently charges the same fees to EU member states as the wider European Economic Area (EEA), including Norway, Switzerland and Iceland, so fees may not be affected by a “Brexit”. On the flip side, UK citizens wishing to study abroad in Europe may also be affected by increased fees and freedom of movement if a vote to leave materialises.
Around 15 per cent of the UK academic workforce comes from other EU countries. While recruiting teachers is becoming increasingly difficult, there is a risk that leaving the EU will make it more difficult to attract teachers from abroad.
Local Enterprise Partnerships
The European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) is being distributed in the UK by 39 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) in order to work with local businesses, communities and individuals to invest in local priorities.
Many FE and vocational educators may be concerned about their particular vocational industry subjects and the affects leaving the EU might have on job prospects for young people. Agriculture and manufacturing in particular are areas which may suffer the most if funding and trade regulations need to be renegotiated. In the current EU budget, UK farmers are due to receive £27.8 billion in subsidies from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which is largely put towards environment schemes to protect and enhance the environment. In the event of leaving the EU, farm incomes would probably be reduced and the Government would be unlikely to match the current levels of subsidy.
In the East Midlands, key businesses and the majority of MPs are supporting to remain in the EU. Less than a third of MPs in the East Midlands are supporting the leave campaign, with five undeclared and 60 per cent supporting the remain campaign. However, all four of the region’s MEPs are supporting “Brexit”. Both the Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, and the Skills Minister, Nick Boles, are local MPs and both are in the pro-remain camp.
All of the local LEPs receive ESIF funding to support local priorities. Additionally, EU funding has supported projects across the region, including the Institute for Aerospace Technology at the University of Nottingham.
Rolls-Royce, one of the largest employers in the region, and East Midlands Airport are among those who have signed an official pro-remain letter. While other big local names including JCB and Toyota have suggested their UK business will not be affected either way, Toyota has stated that its preference is to remain in the EU. The top five trading markets last year for the East Midlands included Germany, Belgium and the Republic of Ireland, all EU member states.
Association of Colleges advice
The Association of Colleges (AoC) has no plans to register as a campaigning organisation. While colleges are classified as private sector bodies in the UK national accounts, and have not previously been covered under purdah regulations, the AoC’s advice is to treat campaigning with caution. The AoC also addresses funding and enrolment issues in their published advice.