In the summer of 2016, the United Kingdom voted in a referendum to leave the European Union. This will lead to changes in many aspects of Sweden’s relations with the UK.
The UK is an important partner for Sweden in research as well as in higher education. Simply put, Swedish research and higher education benefit from co-operation with Britain. Brexit risks making this co-operation more difficult. There are several potential threats to existing co-operation, but those regarded as the most pressing by British actors are mobility for researchers and students, networks, and financing of research and higher education.
There is much uncertainty about relations between the United Kingdom and the EU after Brexit. No one really knows what will be the outcome of the negotiations that have not even started. It is clear, though, that British universities see great risks and have already initiated different types of activities to manage these.
Currently, British universities are focused on informing present and potential students and research staff that so far nothing has changed in either the visa rules, tuition fees, or access to research financing through European programmes.
British universities also show an increased interest in co-operating with universities and networks in other EU member states. In many cases they are keen to strengthen their links to other individual universities, and to develop existing research collaborations into more strategic partnerships that also encompass other forms of co-operation.
It is important that we in Sweden ensure our continued co-operation with Britain. Swedish universities would benefit from reviewing their strategies for this co-operation and the opportunities that are presented by Brexit by strategically welcoming new and expanded forms of collaboration. Now is a good time for reviewing which British universities they want to collaborate with and within which areas.
The Swedish Government and authorities can support Swedish universities in their contact building through safeguarding the mobility of British and Swedish researchers and students, and also through recognising the window of opportunity that is now open. Another important task is to strive for conditions that make co-operation in research and higher education as simple as possible, both now and after the United Kingdom has left the EU.
Brexit and the universities – an opportunity for Sweden’s increased co-operation