So project fear failed, and those with the optimistic view of Britain’s future outside the EU won the day.
Perhaps a few of those supporting the leave campaign were motivated less by optimism about Britain’s place in the world and our potential once we are free from the shackles of bureaucracy and cost, and more by a desire to pull up the drawbridge and focus on fixing national issues. But now we all have to think about how to ensure that the government to be delivers on the rosy picture that was painted; that leaving the EU frees the UK up to focus on global, not just EU, co-operation and repatriates funds to invest in these things.
So for the Higher Education (HE) sector, what does it all mean?
In my blog for the Global BUzz in April, I set out the main immediate concerns for HE - student recruitment, mobility for staff and students, research funding and a concern about collaboration and cultural openness.
The view from the House of Commons library was that it was fairly inevitable (based on previous experience in Switzerland) that on Brexit we will leave the Erasmus mobility schemes and also lose access to at least some EU research funding.
Clearly these are issues to be discussed as part of the negotiations and so it is not inevitable that all this will go. If it does, the government may use some of the Brexit premium to replace lost funding, as suggested by Leave campaigners during the campaign.
However, research and mobility may not be priority areas in the negotiations or in the allocation of any funding so we must make sure that both of these options remain on the agenda. Of course, it doesn’t need to be like for like – it would be great to see a UK mobility funding scheme that provided funding for students to travel globally, not just within Europe, and UK based research funding that supported international collaborations.
Regardless of funding issues, the key to student and staff mobility both into and out of the UK is immigration policy. This may be the most difficult domestic political issue that the UK government is going to have to handle. With debate about potential trade-offs between free trade and free movement Leave campaigners are seeking to distance themselves from the anti-immigration stream of the campaign.
As I said in my blog, I do not believe that the UK government, with the mandate that they now have, can possibly take us into the EEA in a Norway style arrangement – that would surely require a second referendum. They might agree to a halfway house on free movement but there would be massive resistance in the UK from all those who want the promised points based system and want it applied equally to all.
So the big priority for HE is to ensure that whatever agreements or systems are put in place recognise the contribution of foreign students and staff in HE to learning and knowledge generation as well as to the economy and to our culture. They also need to be mutual, in recognition of the longer term benefits of outward mobility to UK knowledge and society. These new arrangements do not need to be focussed on the EU but should facilitate global mobility both in and out of the UK.
And last but most certainly not least, the HE sector has a huge responsibility now to set the tone on collaborative and inclusive discourse. We need to be shoring up our existing relationships across Europe and the world so that they survive and prosper despite the longer term challenges that the EU is likely to face.
Even more importantly, we need to stand behind our international staff and students at a time when a small percentage of the UK population seem to regard the referendum outcome as a licence for the expression of outright xenophobia. The UK HE sector values co-operation, collaboration and inclusivity, and should be working together to support these values over the next difficult months.
Jane Forster, Vice-Chancellor's Policy Advisor at Bournemouth University