Brexit: The implications for UK education

Things have calmed down a bit after the initial excitement around the Brexit vote. It’s quickly become clear to everyone (whichever way they voted) that the process of the UK leaving the EU is going to be a long, slow, carefully negotiated one. But, by and large, it’s back to business as usual for the time being.
There are some signs of an economic slowdown, though, as EU-dependent businesses weigh up the consequences and consumers react to uncertainty by spending a bit less. Schools are already feeling the pinch, but as Theresa May has already said she doesn’t want to squeeze public spending any further, there’s no reason for schools to anticipate being worse off as a specific result of Brexit. Still, none of us can ignore the uncertainty completely.

The UK government is already giving more support to exporting businesses through BESA and the Department for International Trade. BESA’s recent member survey found that the overwhelming majority (92%) of us believe there are things the government should be doing within the UK to sustain and build business confidence, and that we all want the government to deliver a “clear and positive message”, offering guidance on education budgets and showing the UK is open for business.

In return, though, we’re all going to have to work harder to show how we add real value to schools. There is a real premium for quality British products, and resources that save time and money. A lot of us in the education industry are small to medium sized companies, and we all need to work together to convey the breadth of what Britain has to offer in education.

Trading with non-EU countries

Interestingly, while both speed and quality of negotiations with the EU are seen to be important priorities, BESA members didn’t think an EU deal should be negotiated to the detriment of trade deals with non-EU countries – something that BESA can help with, too.

Last month, BESA and the Department for International Trade organised a ministerial mission to Shanghai and Beijing for 17 ed tech companies, following an unprecedented interest from Chinese investors and educators. BESA has helped our own partnership with the National Institute of Education Sciences in China from the beginning. Links were forged at BESA’s 2016 Pre-Bett ICT Briefing for UKTI, which proved very helpful in forging the right contacts within Hong Kong and China, and our 10 year partnership agreement, was witnessed by Jo Johnson MP during the recent mission.

Staff from the EU

BESA’s survey also emphasised the need to reduce uncertainty about the right of EU citizens working the UK to stay here. Like us, a number of BESA members employ staff from the EU and are concerned that they won’t feel secure. Given the skills they bring to businesses, we need to emphasise their importance to politicians, especially given our collective export focus.

Sadly, recent political speeches on opportunities with foreign workers haven’t been particularly helpful (which is why I wrote to Amber Rudd MP recently to highlight how, post-Brexit, education systems overseas are significantly greater if we have a diverse, globally aware workforce).

BESA has the skills and influence to make a difference on all of the above. Let’s work together to help them do it.