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The North Sea Bubble: Brexit Studies

The North Sea Bubble: Brexit Studies

The UK’s departure from the European Union is far from a done deal. It is very much an ongoing situation whose ramifications will be felt for decades to come. Government departments are scrambling to restructure themselves for a post-Brexit future, and the sound of head-scratching will continue to ring out on the British and European political landscape for a generation. Laws must be rewritten, business relationships reshuffled, and demographics reassessed. Taxation must be redrafted, subsidies reimagined and public finances melted down and re-minted. It’s a difficult divorce.

In the light of such a seismic referendum result, Birmingham City University has made Brexit an academic subject. Sifting through the wreckage of one of the most dramatic European political events of recent times is now a full-time subject with its own dedicated centre. The Centre for Brexit Studies aims to engage with the multifaceted arguments for ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ to enhance understanding of the consequences of the UK leaving the EU.

The move could well be an attempt at self-preservation for the university sector. Top academics and education leaders have been in a panic since the referendum result, with one university Chancellor telling a January public hearing that hard Brexit ‘would probably be the biggest disaster for the university sector in many years.’ The free movement enjoyed by undergraduate and postgraduate students for several decades will be eroded, attitudes towards immigrants in the UK are hardening, and sources of EU research funding may be forced to turn off the taps. This does indeed leave British academia in a precarious position, because all three of the above points are deterrents to students coming to the UK to study and do research.

Applications by undergraduate EU students to the University of Cambridge have dropped by 14% this year, with one Cambridge professor stating that Brexit ‘ … promptly cuts off the flow of excellent people who are coming at the moment.’ The consensus in the academic community is that Britain’s status as a centre for quality teaching and research will be irreparably damaged, and cost the UK economy up to £690m a year in lost revenues due to the reduction in EU student numbers.

“With the vote of the UK to leave the EU it is now crucial to gain an understanding of the complexities that Brexit entails for individuals, communities, business and government, whilst clearing up misconceptions around its impact,” said Alex de Ruyter, research director at Birmingham City University’s business school.

Neither the size of the centre nor the names or nationalities of its faculty have yet been released. But the Guardian has produced a tongue-in-cheek rundown of possible courses it imagines might be on offer at the new Centre for Brexit Studies.