A brain drain of EU law students would damage universities and our profession.
I am very concerned about the effect of Brexit on the teaching of EU and competition law in UK universities.
My academic career began at Bristol University in 1978; in 1991 I moved to King’s College London. During those 38 years, predominantly specialising in EU competition law, I have taught students from every EU member state (and the EEA countries). I have taught far more from other member states than from the UK, and provided careers advice that led to many non-UK students having highly successful careers here. Equally, I have watched many of my UK students move to the continent and enjoy fulfilling careers there.
It has been a privilege to participate in a community of bright, inquisitive, open-minded and ambitious individuals, brought together by a shared fascination for European law generally and competition law in particular.
My experience of higher education is doubtless similar to that of many others, both in law and other disciplines. Not only are there many estimable students from other member states at British universities, the same is true of academic staff. Part of the vibrancy of academic life at King’s is attributable to the mix of backgrounds and legal cultures. UK students benefit hugely from this, but I fear the referendum result puts it in jeopardy.
The UK university sector is also anxious about the possible effects of Brexit on recruitment. Universities can and do say reassuring things about a continuing commitment to attract students from the EU and beyond. But at this stage, when the formal exit process has yet to begin, and when the government has yet to hint at its future intent, there is a limit to how much reassurance can be given.
The King’s website says fees are ‘not likely to be affected over the next few years’ by the Brexit vote. EU students currently pay £15,000 to take the LLM; non-EU students pay £22,800 – a mark-up of more than 50%. Those will be the fees for the 2017/18 intake, but I wonder how reassured a Hungarian or Portuguese student, for example, contemplating an LLM at King’s in 2019 or 2020, will be by that website statement.
King’s has been fully committed to EU law from the earliest days of British membership of the EEC: the Centre of European Law was established in 1974. It will remain fully committed to the teaching of and research into all aspects of EU law.
However, how many EU students (faced with an ever-increasing number of institutions in the rest of the EU teaching LLM courses in EU and competition law) will decide that specialist study of EU law in a non-EU country is now undesirable? Part of the attraction of studying at King’s (or at any of the other excellent UK law schools teaching EU and competition law) has been at least the possibility of going on to a career as a lawyer here.
We do not know the future position on work permits, visas and so on, but it is clear that the position of EU students is unlikely to be as good as it is today. Even if arrangements are put in place to enable good students to work in London, the number of competition lawyers in London may decrease as a result of Brexit.
Big-ticket competition cases before the European Commission, which at the moment can be handled by the London office of major firms, are likely to migrate to those firms’ Brussels offices (or to other major EU cities). The enforcement of EU competition law in the High Court and Competition Appeal Tribunal may also diminish – as it will when there is no longer a statutory duty to comply with articles 101 and 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
British universities will continue to try and attract the brightest and the best students from the continent. I hope they succeed. However, viewed from my small corner of the university system, I fear that Brexit will bring an end to a wonderful era of EU integration.
I have always seen a bottle that was half full – since 23 June I see the contents draining away.
Richard Whish QC (hon) is emeritus professor of law at King’s College London and president of the Law Society’s competition law section