Academics could be cut off from international partnerships that generate world-leading research if the UK were to leave the European Union, the University of Cambridge vice-chancellor has warned.
Arguing for a “sensible debate about the UK’s membership of the EU”, Sir Leszek Borysiewicz said research at universities across Europe would be severely damaged if the UK voted to leave the union.
UK universities would lose hundreds of millions of pounds a year in EU research funding, and a UK exit would also destroy links with world-class institutions made possible by pan-European funding.
“The real loss is that we would not be able to collaborate in the way we do today,” said Sir Leszek in a speech at a reception for UK vice-chancellors in Brussels on 13 April.
“The UK needs Europe and Europe needs the UK,” he added, saying that the EU managed to “bring together academics to work on today’s big global challenges” and that “together we are much stronger than we are separately”.
The exclusion of Switzerland’s universities from EU research projects – after it breached freedom of labour rules by voting to impose immigration quotas on Croatian workers – showed the potential dangers to science, Sir Leszek warned. “Do we want to be outside the EU, where the Swiss [found] themselves after a referendum they held?” he said.
Universities are also often at the heart of high-tech centres that generate thousands of good jobs, he argued, which could be at risk if the UK was sidelined.
In a Universities UK blog published on 13 April, Sir Leszek also said he was disappointed to see how parties “across the political spectrum” were discussing immigration. As the son of Polish émigrés incarcerated in Siberia during the Second World War who later came to the UK, Sir Leszek said he owed much to “the UK’s historically open and positive attitude to immigrants”.
“The UK’s future, as a member of the EU, cannot be decided by an intemperate, ill-defined and ill-informed debate on immigration. For universities, EU funding alone is too important to be sacrificed for short-term electoral success,” he said.