HE in Brexit Britain: from international leader to also-ran?

Paul Temple.

Jamie Martin, a Leave campaigner and former special adviser to Michael Gove has written a piece in Times Higher Education on how British universities could achieve “education leadership in a post-Brexit world”. Martin begins his article by giving the impression that he sees the Battle of Waterloo in terms of plucky little England standing up to a gang of foreigners. In fact, the Duke of Wellington led a proto-EU multinational army group that would have certain sections of the Press frothing with rage if it was even suggested today. In 1815, it was Napoleon who stood alone against a combined Europe.

The rest of Martin’s piece is a good example of what I suppose we’ll have to get used to from the Brexiters. From being told, pre-referendum, that there were lots of golden opportunities there for the taking once we were freed from the EU’s iron grip (though specific examples were hard to come by), we’re now told that, fingers crossed, there may be ways round the (accurately predicted) difficulties that Brexit presents. It’s as if the UK had just drifted in from mid-Atlantic to find all these interesting things going on in Europe – Martin mentions the Erasmus student exchange scheme and the Horizon 2020 research programme – and said to itself, “Hey, we could join in some of these!” Martin thinks, for example, that we should pay to re-join Horizon and then go on to “campaign to reduce bureaucracy and expand membership”. I think we can imagine how the meeting would go at which the UK, as a new Horizon associate member, tried to lay down the law about the programme’s future direction. For people who’ve spent their lives doing politics, it’s the apparent lack of political sensitivity among many Brexit enthusiasts that is so striking. Martin and his friends haven’t yet realised that, very soon, nobody in Europe will care about what Britain thinks.

This is also apparent when Martin says the “Foreign Office and British Council should support marketing for universities looking to internationalise”. He seems not to have been paying attention. UK universities until recently led the world in internationalisation of all sorts: this is now all at risk thanks to the current Brexit rhetoric (a friend doing international student recruitment in Italy can hardly believe the interest they’re now getting from Asia) – and Leave campaigners such as Martin then have the nerve to demand that university leaders develop “a coherent strategy for national advantage” to support the UK university brand. You almost have to admire the sheer brass neck. Almost.

Photo of Glasgow University by Ramsay Thomson https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

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Posted in Education policy, Further higher and lifelong education, International comparisons
2 comments on “HE in Brexit Britain: from international leader to also-ran?
  1. Gunther Kress says:

    Dear Paul, I enjoyed — well, was very interested in / what is there to enjoy about anything involving the recent exercise in shooting oneself in both feet?? – your small piece. I like your mocking of the view of Wellington seen as “plucky little England standing up to a gang of foreigners” Taking the issue of England’s place in the world seriously, as indeed you do, there are, as I’m sure you know, other lenses, all providing different angles on the present situation. I do query whether “In fact, the Duke of Wellington led a proto-EU multinational army group” No question that anything vaguely resembling this view “would have certain sections of the Press frothing with rage if it was even suggested today” Though I find the rest of your condensed history problematic. You will know that Wellington and his army were facing defeat until the arrival, late in the afternoon, of the Prussian general Bluecher’s army.

    The “combined Europe” in 1815, were the interests of the reactionary feudal/aristocratic forces of pre-Napoleonic Europe, who later, under the influence of the Austrian Metternich re-shaped and re-instated, with brutal vengeance, that older order of utter self-interest. Wellington, at Waterloo was without doubt the eager servant of those forces. That, it seems to me, gives a better sense of the politics of then, and the politics of now; and the forces behind the Leave campaign – in all ways. The deep nastiness and utter, brutal self-interest of then and now are shared.

    That does not take away from the strength of your argument overall – with which I agree.

    My preferred history, were we able to re-run it, personally, would have been one in which the Napoleon of Beethoven’s first conception of that symphony had been successful, and been able to stay true to what may have been his nobler aims.
    best
    Gunther

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