How Brexit will impact UK's higher education

EU law was, as in so many other contexts, a convenient scapegoat.

 |  4-minute read |   24-06-2016
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Here's one of the potential reasons many Commonwealth citizens resident in Britain voted to leave the European Union: EU law meant that EU citizens had to be offered jobs ahead of Commonwealth citizens. This has a special bearing on the university sector.

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Universities, or more specifically academics trying to appoint to posts that have to be competently filled as opposed to the university bureaucracies that have experienced enormous upsizing in an era of neoliberal rationalisation-by-downsizing, have often complained that this means non-EU candidates are often not even shortlisted, because the bureaucracy involved in getting their appointments approved by the Home Office is too complicated to be worth the trouble.

Of course, those who weren't completely naive knew that this was often the excuse of racists and xenophobes to hire whites instead of coloured commonwealth citizens. EU law was, as in so many other contexts, a convenient scapegoat.

cameronbd_062416043120.jpg David Cameron.

Let us bear in mind that it was David Cameron's government that applied this law in a particularly pernicious way, often effectively sacking people appointed by universities by falling back on EU law.

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Previously, the university merely made a case for hiring the best candidate for a job, and the fact that they said a candidate was the best meant that the clause that no suitable EU candidate could be found to do the job better was met.

Under Cameron, it was interpreted to mean one had to show no suitable EU candidate could be found at all, even if it meant to do the job worse.

At the time I left the island, I had had the edifying experience of repeatedly having been on appointment committees that had been pre-rigged by the rest of the committee, but it still looked good to have a representative of a "minority" group on it.

I had also been, for the same reason, interviewed many times for jobs no one had any intention of appointing me to, in some cases being puzzled at being on a shortlist at all when the preferred specialisation was amply represented on the shortlist, and having assumed I would only be considered if a suitable specialist was not found.

On other occasions, whether I was interviewer or interviewee, calculations were often upset when the minority representative embarrassingly turned out to be the best candidate on offer; but on so many occasions, and before the Cameronisation of the "EU law" excuse, they were not the candidate offered first refusal.

I was also on the admissions committee for an academic department at an English university, so I can tell many stories from another angle about institutions and frankly racist policies, including a belief that if there was a suitable Brit for an EU-only scholarship, it was so often stitched up in advance, and the unrealistic grade equivalences weighted against EU countries' school-leavers, making it much harder for a German or French or Belgian student to enter an English university.

Meanwhile, I was encouraged to accept students from overseas-fee-paying countries regardless of whether they were competent or not, ahead of EU students for sure, because the latter paid the same fees as British students: the overseas fees were substantially higher.

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Scottish universities, of course, had different regulations and fee structures, resisting the English-led trends. Now that "Britain" has voted to leave the EU, the next logical step, in new conditions, obviously, would be to have another Scottish referendum, since the Scots only narrowly voted to stay in Britain recently, had assumed Britain’s EU membership, and this time around voted by a large majority to stay in the EU. The Mull of Kintyre, freed from the restrictions of the British Board of Film Certification, is standing up in anticipation.

As for the citizens of the former Commonwealth, especially those not from the "old Dominions", will it make any difference to many of us who lived through the everyday casual racism of Great Britain?

Will it be better or worse in a more explicitly xenophobic Britain?

Nah.

It's business as usual, without the safeguards that could not be used if you didn't have the money to use your legal rights...

I remember voting in an election in the Hillsborough constituency in Sheffield, where it was a head-to-head British National Party against Labour contest.

The BNP, long considered neo-Nazis, said they'd keep immigrants out. Labour said the BNP would never be in power, so we should vote Labour to keep immigrants out instead.

I'm actually for setting the island adrift, and letting those who want to remain in the EU move to the mainland.

Writer

Benjamin Zachariah Benjamin Zachariah

Benjamin Zachariah is a historian at the University of Trier, Germany, and author of several books, including 'Nehru'and 'Playing the Nation Game'.

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