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Will Brexit Result in More European Campuses for UK Universities?

on Monday, 07 November 2016.

With Theresa May's announcement that Article 50 will not be triggered until March 2017, the terms of Brexit will not be clear for many months to come

In the meantime, UCAS has reported that applications from EU students for early deadline courses are down 9% on last year, perhaps suggesting that EU students are not seeing the UK as such an attractive place to study when the future is so uncertain.

HEFCE's Chief Executive, Madeleine Atkins, has warned that the 'future talent pool' will be a serious issue post Brexit and there is anecdotal evidence of EU nationals turning down job offers and of European academics being nervous about collaborating with UK academics on research project submissions. This has fuelled speculation about what steps universities may want to take in order to continue to attract EU staff, students and funding.

Historically UK universities have tended to look beyond Europe to destinations such as Asia or the Middle East when considering setting up branch campuses overseas. Some universities already have campuses closer to home, including Paris, Brussels and Rome, but European campuses may now look like an attractive option, perhaps mitigating the effects that a stricter immigration regime may have on staff and students coming to the UK, helping to retain partnerships with European institutions and continuing to allow access to European Union research funding, including European Research Council grants.

It is of course still very early days and there is much to think about before setting up a campus overseas. This includes whether there is an under-capacity of HE provision in the country in question, the costs and financial implications, replicating the UK institution's existing brand and quality at the overseas campus and numerous legal and practical issues to consider. Opening a new university campus can be fraught with difficulties and there have been a number of high-profile failures. Less risky alternatives such as collaborations and partnerships with EU institutions and businesses, may be a more attractive option for many UK universities, particularly until the terms of Brexit and its implications are clarified.

An essential step is to ensure that all of your relevant names and logos are protected throughout the EU, by being registered as trade marks. If a UK university does not have registered trade mark protection in or covering a particular EU state, it is unlikely that the University would be able to stop a third party using the relevant trade mark in that state. That of course could make it very difficult for the university to open a branch campus in that EU state, or to engage with a partner institution there. So registering trade marks - and being aware of any gaps in trade mark protection - is very important. However, Brexit will give rise to some complications regarding trade mark protection in the EU.

Currently, an EU trade mark (EUTM) registration will cover all 28 EU member states, including the UK. Once the UK leaves, it is not yet clear whether EUTM registrations in force at that point will continue to provide protection in the UK (although the thinking is that in some manner, they probably will). However, it is clear to us that EUTM registrations belonging to UK institutions will continue to apply in the rest of the EU after Brexit. So despite the uncertainties surrounding Brexit, it remains sensible for UK universities to register EUTMs now, particularly if at some stage in the future they might wish to engage in an EU campus project.

VWV has recently been appointed to the legal services panel of the North West Universities Purchasing Consortium's Global Mobility Support Services Framework. The Framework has been established to cover all aspects of global mobility, including outbound assignments from the UK including secondments overseas or setting up a campus in an overseas territory, and inbound assignments to the UK, e.g. the appointment of overseas nationals or accepting secondments from overseas universities. Managed by NWUPC, the Framework is available for use by universities across England and Wales.

For more information about international higher education projects or collaborations please contact Doug Locke on 0117 314 5602.

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