Last reviewed 1 October 2021

The UK finally left the EU on 31 December 2020 and, according to YouGov polling, within a month public concerns about Brexit had fallen sharply, with barely a third of respondents saying it was still an important issue. The great majority seemed assured that Brexit was, in the Government’s terms, “done”. This now seems to have been somewhat premature, as businesses soon began to realise when they found themselves, for the first time in 40 years, having to deal with paperwork and checks when moving goods to and from the EU. There is little doubt that leaving the EU is continuing to affect trading companies, hauliers and retailers, therefore, but has there been a demonstrable impact on the education sector?

This article will argue that there has been and that some of the problems are challenging and likely to be long-lasting. Schools and colleges also need to be aware that the Government is beginning to change the EU rules which it inherited at Brexit and which have regulated how organisations work in key areas such as data protection and procurement.

Freedom of movement

One of the most obvious impacts is that official figures show a notable decline in European teachers seeking to work in the UK since Brexit. The same applies in the other direction, of course: teachers from this country can no longer move to an EU country and apply for a job on the same basis as local candidates. Acquiring visas and ensuring the right to work has dramatically increased the paperwork involved and made it much harder to move to teaching posts in the EU. It is also the case that school trips to previous favourite destinations such as France and Italy will take longer to organise and be more complicated as a result of Brexit.

As regards filling the gaps left by the withdrawal of EU teachers, non-EU nationals can apply for a Skilled Worker visa up to three months before they start work in the UK provided that:

  • the employing organisation is a licensed Home Office employer sponsor and has offered the overseas teacher a teaching job

  • the proposed recruit can speak, read, write and understand English

  • the role pays at least £20,480 or the relevant minimum rate for teachers in England, whichever is higher (if the role is part-time, pro-rata rates will apply as long as the salary is at least £20,480 a year).

Teachers from EU countries who were already working in this country were expected to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme by 30 June 2021 although later applications could be accepted with a valid excuse for the delay. If they were given pre-settled status, they then needed to apply for settled status before their pre-settled status expired.

Erasmus

Nearly 11,000 students in higher education in the UK participated in the 2016 application period for study placements abroad through the EU’s Erasmus+ scheme. Offered the chance to continue participating in the initiative as an “associated country” after Brexit, the Government declined and has instead launched its own Turing scheme. This should, the Department for Education (DfE) said, enable up to 35,000 students from the UK to work or study across the world.

The European Commission said: “The UK’s decision not to be involved as an associated third country — that is, on the same footing as EU Member States — will radically reduce the number of its opportunities for Erasmus+ cooperation projects and exchange in the areas of education, training, youth, and sport.”

The Government has allocated £110 million for the first year of the Turing scheme, which starts in 2021/22, but has said nothing about how it will be funded thereafter. Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said: “The way it'll work is our universities will partner with another university and they will waive the fees because they will be exchanging students.”

Data protection

All schools would have been caught up in the GDPR rush to display privacy notices on their websites in 2018 as a result of the coming into force of Regulation (EU) 2016/679, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). That important piece of legislation was retained in domestic law after Brexit, being rebranded as UK GDPR and mainly continuing to apply as it did previously. However, the Government has now announced that it wants to introduce new reforms to the UK’s data protection regime (see here for more information).

These proposed measures are open for consultation until November this year and the likely impact on the education sector remains to be seen. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) has, however, said: “Recent lessons about the operation and benefits of joined-up data use may also help to inform approaches to other governmental priorities, such as improving outcomes in education.”

Access to school places by foreign workers

EEA (Irish citizens aside) and Swiss national children entering the UK after the end of 2020 must now be treated the same as other foreign nationals. This means they will no longer have the right to enter the country to access a state-funded school unless they fall within certain immigration categories.

These include: being a dependant of a foreign national who has settled status in the UK; and being a dependant of parent(s) who are in the UK on a work visa or Student visa, or who are part of a family entering or residing in the UK under the immigration route for British National (Overseas) citizens and their dependants.

Procurement

Public sector bodies have for many years been governed by EU rules which meant that large contracts had to be advertised across the Union, allowing all companies the chance to bid for contracts. In December 2020, the Government launched a consultation on its plans to transform public procurement and, as the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) pointed out at the time, this will potentially impact how schools, colleges and trusts purchase services and products.

For example, under the new proposals (which can be found here), a new group would be set up with powers to issue improvement notices with recommendations to drive up standards in individual contracting authorities. Where these recommendations were not adopted, the unit could have recourse to further action such as spending controls.

Access to EU regional and research funding

The Brexit campaign famously suggested that the £350 million sent to the EU every week should be spent on the NHS instead. While the UK certainly paid more to the EU than it received back, the real picture was slightly more nuanced than could be spelled out on the side of a bus. Of the money which came back as regional funding, for example, most went to projects in the UK’s poorest areas, involving particularly charities and organisations working with young people, schools and colleges. These regions and projects have certainly lost out, with Cornwall having already reported that it may only get £3 million from the Government to directly replace the £100 million for which it could have been eligible before Brexit.

There will be similar problems in the higher education sector with regard to loss of research funding from EU sources. According to a Royal Society report, the UK received €8.8 billion from the European Commission for research between 2007 and 2013 while contributing €5.4 billion to the Union's research budget.