With the future of the UK’s position in the European Union set to be decided in a referendum in just under four months, 103 university vice-chancellors in the UK have signed an open letter, urging “the British public to consider the vital role the EU plays in supporting our world-class universities”.
The letter, published in the Sunday Times, stresses that inside the EU, the UK is more of an “attractive destination for global talent” and universities are able to collaborate better with European partners for research.
Prime Minister David Cameron announced last week that the referendum will take place on June 23, and while university leaders say that “no one is suggesting that UK universities could not survive outside the EU”, they warn of the potential implications of a Brexit.
“Today, more than at any time in the past, success at the highest level depends upon collaboration between nations”
“Leaving would mean cutting ourselves off from unique support and established networks and would undermine the UK’s position as a global leader in science, arts and innovation,” the letter argues.
“Throughout the referendum campaign, as university leaders, we are committed to highlighting the value of EU membership to our universities, ensuring that a range of views are heard on campuses, and debating why the EU matters to the British people, now and for the future,” it adds.
Universities UK, the representative body of UK higher education, declared an ‘in’ stance last summer, launching a Universities for Europe campaign, highlighting and promoting the benefits of an EU membership on the higher education sector.
“Inside the EU, our outstanding British universities are even stronger,” said Dame Julia Goodfellow, president of Universities UK and vice-chancellor of the University of Kent, in a statement.
“EU membership enhances university research and education which, in turn, benefits the British people.”
Michael Arthur, vice chancellor of University College London, and one of the signatories of the open letter, has expressed that a Brexit would be negative for “the future of higher education, research and innovation across Europe”.
“Research and scholarship have always been cross-border activities, but today, more than at any time in the past, success at the highest level depends upon collaboration between nations,” he said. “I expect the majority of the UK’s research and academic community to remain opposed to Brexit and I sincerely hope that we can persuade others to consider these key points as this debate unfolds in the UK and across Europe.”
Universities Scotland is expecting both the ‘in’ and ‘leave’ campaigns to show “how they are capable of delivering for Scotland’s universities and their contribution to sustainable economic growth and social and cultural wellbeing”, a spokesperson said.
“Irrespective of the outcome of the referendum, we want EU students to continue to see Scotland as a world-class and welcoming higher education destination and for existing opportunities for Scots to study elsewhere in the EU to remain in place, too,” they said.
“Inside the EU, our outstanding British universities are even stronger”
However, with the referendum vote still months away, Dominic Scott, chief executive of the UK Council for International Student Affairs, said the organisation is nottaking a position on the vote but does consider it important for people to recognise “the benefits the EU and EU funded exchange programmes have brought to students and institutions.”
“It is far too early for any of us to predict the precise impact on students of any withdrawal from the EU – and even if it happened I doubt we would have any handle on rule changes for at least a couple of years,” Scott added.
Meanwhile, Vivienne Stern, director of the International Unit, said one of the inevitable consequences of the UK voting to leave, would be a period of uncertainty.
“We’re already seeing at universities, European staff asking questions of their universities: ‘What will happen to me in the event of a Brexit?’” she said. “We simply don’t have any answers to those.”
However, she added: “Universities in the UK are very resilient, they’re internationally connected.
“We’re not saying we couldn’t succeed outside Europe we just think that it would be a real retrograde step,” she said.
“It’s something that’s so valuable it would be a real tragedy to walk away from that.”