EU referendum starting gun sparks university leaders into action

Leaving the EU would damage international partnerships vital to research excellence, v-cs say in letter to national newspaper

February 22, 2016
european union boris johnson debate june 23
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More than 100 vice-chancellors have signed an open letter highlighting the value of European Union membership to UK universities.

In the sector’s most significant intervention in the EU referendum debate, some 103 university leaders put their names to a letter published in the Sunday Times on 21 February that urges the British public “to consider the vital role the EU plays in supporting our world-class universities”.

Its publication follows Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to call a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU on 23 June.

Universities minister Jo Johnson also reaffirmed his desire for the UK to remain within the EU over the weekend, putting him at odds with his older brother, the Mayor of London Boris Johnson, whose call to quit the EU saw odds on a Brexit fall to 2-1.

Business secretary Sajid Javid, the Cabinet minister responsible for higher education, who has made a number of Eurosceptic remarks, will also stay loyal to the prime minister by campaigning to stay in the EU, he has confirmed

University leaders state that the UK’s position within the EU had a positive impact on universities, helping “our economy, driving growth, generating jobs and ultimately improving people’s lives”.

They also highlight the positive impact of the EU for collaboration and the support provided for “cutting edge research, from medical and healthcare advances, to new materials, products and services”.

“In the EU, the UK is also a more attractive destination for global talent, ensuring that our students are taught by the best minds from across Europe,” the letter states.

“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,” it adds.

Making clear their strong support for EU membership, the vice-chancellors write that they “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”.

Dame Julia Goodfellow, president of Universities UK and vice-chancellor of the University of Kent, said she believed that British universities are stronger in the EU.

“EU membership enhances university research and education which, in turn, benefits British people,” said Dame Julia.

“Membership of the EU is good for our universities, good for British students who benefit from being taught by the best minds from across Europe, and good for the science and research that improves people’s lives.”

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