On 10 July 2017 Christian Dadomo and Dr Noëlle Quénivet attended a workshop organised by Dr Albert Sanchez Graells at the University of Bristol to discuss the impact of Brexit on Law Schools in the South West. The event which was supported by the Society for Legal Scholars (SLS) was attended by academics from the University of Bristol, the University of Exeter, South Bank University as well as UWE and by a student representative of the University of Bristol. Other similar regional workshops have been held around the country (for the reports, see here). Prior to that the Law School of the University of Bristol which acted as the lead for this meeting had carried out a survey amongst colleagues at the above mentioned institutions as well as at the University of Aberystwyth, Bournemouth, Cardiff, Gloucester, Plymouth, Swansea and the University of South Wales. Further information on this is available on the SLS website.
The discussions during the meeting focused on three areas: research, teaching and scholarly community with a view to identifying specific impacts derived from Brexit.
With regard to research it was noted that Brexit had created opportunities for researchers and increased opportunities for law academics to engage with the public. Brexit has also led a number of academics to get more involved with Parliament as a way to assist the State in the negotiations. In relation to funding it was observed that whilst some funding institutions have set up specific funds these are short-lived. Academics expressed their concern at the potential loss of EU funding opportunities and the concomitant competition to obtain funding at national level. Commercially-oriented research is seen as a potential opportunity all the more as academics appear to have a better and more holistic understanding of some Brexit issues. Whilst it was suggested that they should increase their engagement with eg law firms, it was noted that the current legal uncertainty hampers the provision of appropriate and relevant legal support at the moment.
Although a sudden surge in the number of students in optional EU law modules and/or programmes that focus on international and EU law was observed, it is likely to be short-lived and only contingent on the current political/legal context. In the long run students might shun away from such optional modules/programmes. In contrast, LLM programmes in EU law have suffered with a drop in the number of applications and might not be able to recover as there is competition from EU universities offering similar degrees taught in English language. Brexit has already had an impact on teaching, in particular in core modules such as Public Law and EU Law in which the current developments have been integrated. Arrangements are also in place to ensure updated delivery as the Article 50 negotiations unfold. Whether EU law will remain a core module on the LLB is unknown. Whilst Brexit will no doubt have an influence on the law curriculum the introduction of the SQE is more likely to have an even bigger impact. In general, there is consensus that EU law will remain an important subject and that it needs to be taught, either as a self-standing or in the context of a broader trade/international economic law module. Academics expressed their concerns that the ERASMUS programme might not be in existence anymore unless a deal is struck with the EU. The UK greatly benefits from this programme as it is the first country of destination and welcomes 130,000 students every year. Generally, Brexit has already had an effect on the number of EU students coming to the UK to study. The lack of certainty relating to the level of tuition fees, the opportunity to apply for funding on a par with UK nationals, the possibility that visas or other forms of proofs of right to remain be required are all playing against current recruitment strategies. Also, retaining international openness and outlook is key to retaining student numbers.
Overall, Brexit has negatively impacted the morale in law schools and the continued uncertainty creates difficult issues for both staff and students. It was mooted that legal academics from EU27 might wish to pursue their career outside the UK which would lead to a brain drain effect. Universities have shown high-level commitment to keeping internationalisation and diversity as core goals. Yet, the existing legal uncertainty seems to limit what they can practically do for staff and students at this stage.