Those working in UK higher education tend to see immigration and freedom of movement within the European Union as positives, citing them as key reasons to back continued membership of the bloc, responses to the Times Higher Education survey suggest.
The referendum survey included an open question asking respondents for comments on the reasons why they plan to vote Remain or Leave.
The responses bear out the theory that those who work in a field where they are beneficiaries of globalisation – who do not perceive their jobs to be under threat or their wages under pressure from immigration – are more likely to favour staying in the EU.
One survey respondent said of the case for Remain: “It’s cultural, economic, about free movement and opportunities to work in and collaborate with those in the EU. I also think immigration is a hugely positive thing for the academy and for the UK economy and that we benefit far more than we risk by welcoming people from across the world.”
One highlighted student mobility within the EU: “I have both been an international exchange student myself in the past, and worked closely with Erasmus exchange students and with international partners, and it is also clear to me that the UK, and universities in particular, benefit socially and culturally from the rich perspectives gained through exchanges and through freedom of movement.”
Another dead-panned that “being married to a citizen of another EU member state, I quite like being able to live in the same country as my wife and children”.
For some, the choice was clear. “It seems that, on both narrowly selfish grounds, and on the broader arguments, it would be a strange choice indeed for a higher education worker to vote Leave,” said one respondent.
Another said: “So many reasons to remain it is hard to know where to start; everything from selfishness (my access to EU grants and PhD students, fear of almost certain tax hikes and reduced services upon Brexit) through the mundane (I wonder who will clean the toilets at Guy’s Hospital if immigrants are removed?) all the way to distrust of Brexiteers, who seem increasingly bonkers.”
Some respondents expressed strong hostility towards the Leave campaign. One said that “Brexiteers” have “relied on prejudice, economic ignorance and, let’s be honest, racism”. Another said they would vote Remain “in recognition of the basic facts that both the UK and the EU are weaker apart than together. And because I’m not a bigot.”
Among the much smaller number of Brexit supporters in the survey, one argued that a “fairer immigration system which does not disadvantage those outside of the EU could make Britain a much more attractive option for prospective overseas students in the long term, as they have more confidence that they will be able to secure work and stay in Britain after graduating”.
Meanwhile, another respondent said they were “leaning towards Remain but cannot abide the rhetoric” coming from its campaign about damage to household finances if the UK leaves the EU. The respondent thought that a bit rich given “our profession has seen a real term decrease in salary and there’s no way I will ever be able to afford a house in Oxford”.