I attended an event at Northumbria University today. It was titled Brexit and the Law School and I was asked to contribute some thoughts on ‘Learning, Teaching and the University: The Changing Shape of the University Community’. Below is a summary of my brief talk. I’ll try and summarise the rest of the day’s discussion in another post
- Law Schools are, in my view, distinct little communities within the wider university community, within the wider local, regional and national communities and, again in my view, communities are shaped by those who inhabit them. Therefore, to understand the impact of Brexit on Law Schools we need to understand how Brexit might change the make-up of the Law School and university communities and what that change might mean on the ground
- So how will the make-up of Law School and University inhabits change post Brexit? We don’t know!
- Here’s what we do know
- UCAS figures show that applications from UK students for Law Courses for 2017 entry are up by 7% whereas applications from EU students are down 3%
- UCAS figures also show that applications from UK students across the board for 2017 entry are down by 4%, whereas applications from EU students are down by 6%
- The proportion of EU students studying law is relatively small when compared to the proportion of EU students studying some other subjects
- The number and proportion of EU students varies quite dramatically between institutions
- There is lots of anecdotal evidence that EU national academic staff are considering or actively looking to leave the UK and work elsewhere in Europe or the rest of the world
- There is also anecdotal evidence of EU nationals discounting the UK as a possible destination for work
- However there is also anecdotal evidence of EU national colleagues making plans to stay in the UK long term and also of some recruitment of EU national staff since the referendum
- The UCU survey about academics’ views on Brexit suggests that 76% of non-UK national academics are considering leaving the UK. That’s pretty damning. However, I would urge caution over that figure because ‘considering’ is very different from ‘planning to’ and the considering may be the result of quite significant uncertainty. Thing may change as we get clarification on what rights exactly will be available to our EU colleagues
4. This leads me on to what these figures don’t tell us
- Whether they are a trend or a blip. The applications for Law from EU nationals are still higher in number than for the 3 years running up to 2016 so was 2016 just a bumper year and we are returning to ‘normal’?
- What will the figures be over the next 5-10 years? Only once we know that can the data really tell us something about whether Brexit had a significant impact on the number of EU national (law) students in the UK
- If it is more than a blip, is it really Brexit or the uncertainty around Brexit that has caused the drop?
5. In short we don’t know how the make-up of Law School inhabitants might change. We really don’t. But let’s assume the worst – that we will loose the majority of our EU students and colleagues and that we will loose access to the Erasmus+ programme and research mobility/exchange programmes – what would the impact of that be? Well I think it would be devastating. I think we could see
- a shift on who and what is valued in Law Schools
- a more inward looking and insular approach to scholarship and teaching
- less engagement with EU and international issues and in particular with non-common law issues and approaches
- less well rounded curricula -explicit and hidden
- a reduction in the opportunities to learn from each other and a loss of the sort of creativity that happens when you tackle a problem together with people who bring different ways of thinking and doing things to the table
- less tolerance for different ideas and approaches and ways of thinking
- less well rounded lawyers – whether academics, practitioners or ‘just’ citizens of (a possibly much more narrowly defined) world
So my question really is – how do we make sure that we don’t become insular and inward looking law schools that irrelevant to the rest of the world or possibly just irrelevant?
It looks like I will again be teaching EU law next academic year. I am sort of excited about this but I am also already thinking and worrying about it. Most students don’t really enjoy EU law and many find it boring and difficult and frankly irrelevant to them. So what am I going to teach and how and why?
Well, we have a first year course which is all about the EU instituions, law making etc – what you might call the instituional, administrative and constitutional elements. Our Level 2 course is a substantive law course which has always focused on free movement of goods, services and persons. I can’t change that too much as the modules are validated along those lines.
So my plan for year one is to focus on the legal elements of EU integration and think about how law and legal processes have pushed the integration agenda. I want to think about power relationships between actors, relationships between institutions and between Member States and the EU and each other. I want to think about gender awareness in this context – well because that’s my thing and because it gives me an angle to make this more engaging.
Year 2 – well I guess I will stick to mostly free movement stuff but I think I will start with questions around EU migration and explore contexts of highly skilled, low skilled, economic activity, other activity, meanings of citizenship etc. Maybe there is scope here to also explore the external dimensions and some Human Rights stuff. I’d like to do less of the goods and services stuff because that’s not where my interest and expertise lies – although there are some cracking cases and having an understanding of the internal market is useful and important.
I’m thinking if not recommending a specific textbook but prepare detailed reading lists based on online material, a fairly detailed module manual and journal articles, blogs as well as some textbook chapters. So, what do you think? Any suggestions for how to make these EU modules stand out, make them interesting and engaging. Suggestions for coverage, approach, materials? What do you do? What works?