University leaders say they will ramp up their campaign to keep the UK in the European Union after re-elected Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed plans to hold an in-out referendum by 2017.
With the dust barely having settled from a general election that handed a surprise majority to the Conservatives, who had committed in their manifesto to holding the poll, Universities UK says it will be saying “a great deal more” in coming “weeks and months” about “why EU membership is so important and has a positive impact on the British people, our society, our economy and our universities”.
Alistair Jarvis, director of communications and external relations at Universities UK, and Vivienne Stern, director of the UK HE International Unit, write in a blog post that the UK is “exceptionally lucky” to be part of the EU.
Europe “makes it easy” to collaborate on research, with continental universities remaining the most frequent partners for their UK counterparts, and it also allows thousands of students to take part in exchanges, the pair write.
“The British people, economy and society benefit from the UK being a member of the biggest bloc of knowledge in the world,” the post says. “Research, knowledge, innovation and technology are the factors that will decide future economic growth and human progress. EU membership creates British jobs, enables life-changing discoveries and inventions and strengthens the UK’s standing in the world.”
The post concludes by stating Universities UK believes it will have “many allies” in its campaign, including, the organisation suspects, “our newly re-elected Prime Minister”.
The intervention comes just weeks after vice-chancellors travelled to Brussels to lobby against cuts in research funding.
On that trip, Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, the vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge, told Times Higher Education that exiting the EU altogether would see universities lose hundreds of millions of pounds a year in research funding.
Meanwhile, Mr Cameron has confirmed that Theresa May will continue to serve as home secretary in his first Conservative-only Cabinet.
Ms May has repeatedly crossed swords with the university sector over the counter-terrorism and security bill, which many academics fear will suppress freedom of speech on campuses, and over immigration restrictions placed on overseas students.