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In or out?

24 February 2016

The European issue now dominates national politics because of the in-out referendum which takes place on 23 June. The next 17 weeks will be either very interesting or very annoying – take your pick. Will the result of the referendum affect colleges? The short answer is yes. It’s something that will affect us all. So this week’s blog will break down some of the issues which may impact colleges. A more detailed briefing is available here aoc briefing on eu referendum 24 feb 2016.pdf aoc briefing on eu referendum 24 feb 2016.pdf (PDF,106.45 KB) Funding is one. Colleges are able to make bids for European funding. The latest national figures (from 2013-14) show that colleges received £57 million in European Social Fund income and £18 million in direct European grants. This represents 1% of total income and is less in absolute and relative terms than the £1 billion a year (3% of total income) received by UK universities from European Union (EU) research funds. Nevertheless, the money is very important to colleges in the more economically disadvantaged parts of the country. European funding comes with all sorts of conditions and rules but an obvious question about a Brexit is what would be done in its place? Beyond funding, there is also the issue of enrolment. EU nationals living and working in the UK have been able to enrol on further education courses or take apprenticeships on the same basis as UK citizens since the early 1990s. This is tied up with freedom of movement and the key test for both UK and EU citizens is three year's ordinary residence. This issue is very visible in higher education because the Student Loans Company collects and publishes data. In 2013-14, there were 125,000 EU students at UK universities and £224 million was paid in fee loans to EU students on full-time courses in England (3.7% of the total). In the event of a vote to leave, the UK Government could decide to redraw these arrangements though this would presumably be a topic for negotiation about free movement and the single market. It is worth noting that Norwegians and Icelanders have equal access to UK student loans despite their countries being outside the EU whereas the Swiss don't. The difference is membership of the European Economic Area. A Brexit might result in students being reclassified as international students or it might not. Everything would depend on post-exit negotiations. At the moment, there has been less discussion about scenarios for children of compulsory school age, further education students and apprentices, but we will keep a watching brief on this. Schools and councils don't collect nationality data in the school census. Colleges used to return this in the Individual Learner Record but it wasn't comprehensive or accurate so this was discontinued. In the last year when it was collected, colleges recorded 20,000 EU nationals (outside UK) on further education courses but this may well be an under-estimate (figure updated on 24 February 2016). Whether nationality becomes an education issue in the event of a Brexit is another matter of conjecture. I’m not going to use this blog to advocate voting in or out of the European Union. What I will say is that it is so important to make sure you’re registered to vote. Even before the June referendum, there are a variety of local elections in England and also a chance to remove or keep your Police and Crime Commissioner elections on 5 May. The new voter registration system means everyone has a responsibility to enrol. Families can't do it for you so, if you haven’t already done so, register now and make sure your voice is heard. If you work in a college, make sure your students register too. Julian Gravatt is the Assistant Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges.