Oxford Vice-Chancellor supports ‘in’ campaign

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The Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, Louise Richardson, has signed a letter printed in last weekend’s Sunday Times in favour of the United Kingdom remaining a member of the European Union.

This is part of a more general re-kindling of the ongoing debate surrounding our membership of the EU, in the wake of the completion of the Prime Minister’s deal with his European counterparts, the announcement of an “In / Out” referendum on 23rd June, and the lifting of restrictions on the free campaigning of cabinet ministers as part of collective ministerial responsibility.

The letter to The Sunday Times was signed by 103 university leaders, including Prof Richardson, Prof Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, and Prof Stuart Corbridge, Vice Chancellors of Oxford, Cambridge, and Durham respectively, calling for the British public to “to consider the vital role the EU plays in supporting our world-class universities”.

Among several key arguments referenced in the Vice Chancellors’ appeal to the public, the issue of EU funding for research was highlighted: “Inside the EU we are better able to collaborate with partners across Europe to carry out cutting-edge research, from medical and healthcare advances to new materials, products and services.” According to the Royal Society, EU funding in the period 2013-2014 made up 9.7 percent of total research income for Higher Education Institutions in the UK.

Earlier in the week, The Oxford Student reported that Oxford’s Members of Parliament were united across party lines in their support of the In Campaign, with both Nicola Blackwood MP of Conservative held Oxford West and Andrew Smith MP of Labour held Oxford East supporting continued membership.

Naturally, Oxford University has its own internal debate surrounding the European Union, with Europhile and Eurosceptic campaigning groups forming to attempt to swing the student vote at the referendum. Responding to the overwhelming endorsement of EU membership from university chiefs, the Co-Chairs of the university’s local In Campaign, Oxford Students for Europe, said in a statement:

“We are glad to see Louise Richardson and other university leaders highlighting the value of EU membership to British universities. Oxford and other universities across the UK benefit greatly from the collaboration and research funding that comes from being part of the European Union and so it is right for university leaders to raise this issue. We also welcome the commitment to ensuring the upcoming referendum is debated at universities and look forward to playing our part in the debate in Oxford by making the case to remain in the EU over the coming months.”

Their Eurosceptic counterparts at Oxford Students for Britain also offered their views on the issues raised by the letter:

“In response we’d point out that funding which goes to academic institutions is not contingent on membership of the EU, which also gives money to non-member states such as Norway and Turkey. Leaving a political union does not jeopardise or preclude working together with other academic institutions. We co-operate with many other institutions across the world without fusing our parliaments, we have worked together with European institutions before joining our lawmakers and there is no reason to suggest we won’t do so after a Brexit. Britain is a well established intellectual powerhouse with truly global links and will continue as such if we vote to leave this political union.

“Not only that, but we would also like to point out the positive consequences leaving the EU could have on attracting even more skilled people to work in the UK and in allowing international graduates to remain in the country after their study, something which is currently impaired by Britain’s inability to have a genuinely skills-based immigration policy due to the free movement of peoples within the EU.

“We think there is little to fear and a lot to gain by becoming a truly global nation and co-operating with the countries of Europe and the rest of the world on an equal footing.”

The full letter from university leaders reads as follows, and the full list of signatories can be found on The Sunday Times’ website:

Brexit will cost universities valuasble [sic] education alliances

“NOW the prime minister has announced the referendum date, we urge the British public to consider the vital role the EU plays in supporting our world-class universities. Inside the EU we are better able to collaborate with partners across Europe to carry out 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. This has a direct impact on our economy, driving growth, generating jobs and improving people’s lives.

“While no one is suggesting that UK universities could not survive outside the EU, leaving would mean cutting ourselves off from established networks and would undermine the UK’s position as a global leader in science and the arts.

“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 now and for the future.”

Image: OUImages/John Cairns