The country has voted and Britain is set to leave the EU. Of course it’s too early to say what the long term impact will be but as Wonkhe predicted in the gloom of the morning after ‘the culture and tone of our public life may well have changed for good’. (Wonkhe Daily 24th June 2016)
The biggest worries for universities relate to research collaboration and staff and student mobility. Can we imagine a world where students are restricted from studying and working alongside their European peers – either in the UK or in Europe? Frankly no, but for many students (mature, part time, carers, those with little money) international – even national – mobility has always been a problem. My worry now is that it will be even more difficult for those most in need of opportunities to develop their social and cultural capitals to actually do so.
Why should that matter? Well, for one, if we are serious about social mobility, why would we want to make it more difficult? But more importantly, whether we like it or not, we live in a globalising world and our working lives are extending as life expectancy increases. A career for life in the region you were born is no longer a reality. Rather, we will experience multiple career changes and expect to move around and interact with all parts of the globe through our lifespan.
In April this year, members of the European Association of Distance Teaching Universities signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work on the development and sharing of Short Learning Programmes, intended for learners who might not be able to commit to full degrees, for reasons of time, money or status. The MoU committed its members to working towards mutual recognition of credit for such programmes which the Director General for Education and Culture made clear would be a valuable contribution to tackling educational disadvantage.
At the same meeting the members agreed to submit a joint proposal for funding for a programme to address the needs of refugees and migrants. The subsequent submission included: the identification of existing open educational and credit bearing resources on language acquisition, citizenship and cultural and social integration; the development of new provision; training support for trainers in refugee camps and community settings; advice and guidance on routes to higher level learning; bridging programmes for those with non-European qualifications to enable holders to move into European employment; mutual recognition of credit; and recognition of non-European credit within European Open Universities.
Being able to work together in this way may never make us rich (at least not in money terms) but its value in terms of social cohesion and integration, mutual understanding and tolerance and the well-being of millions of people displaced by war and oppression is incalculable. The Open University in the UK is part of this bid and, if it is successful, we will be able to use our knowledge and expertise to support our mission and values in new ways. It will be truly heart-breaking if the terms of exit from the EU limit such opportunities in future.