Scotland’s most influential universities have backed a national campaign to persuade British voters to maintain the UK’s membership of the European Union (EU).
Universities UK, which represents 133 higher education institutions, including the Universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, launched the campaign on 27 July at University College London to argue the case that Britain’s membership of the EU has an “overwhelmingly positive impact” on higher education in the country. The group unanimously agreed that a ‘No’ vote would damage the British economy, reduce graduates’ job prospects and hinder scientific research.
University vice-chancellors and pro-EU politicians, including the Rt Hon Damian Green MP, Chairman of Conservative European Mainstream, and Chuka Umunna MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, collectively put forward the case for the UK to remain in the EU.
Universities UK argued that the 125,000 EU students at British universities have created more than nineteen thousand jobs, with fourteen per cent of the academic staff migrating to work in the UK from other EU member-states, and has generated £2.2 billion for the national economy. Furthermore, since its inception in 1987, two hundred-thousand students and twenty thousand academics have benefited from the EU’s university exchange scheme, Erasmus.
The group also argued that the £1 billon of funding from the EU each year enables British academics to collaborate with colleagues from across the continent, thus improving the quality of research in the UK.
Dame Professor Julia Goodfellow, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Kent, said, “The case for staying in Europe is about ensuring the future prosperity of the UK, it’s about maximising the chances of new discoveries that enhance the society in which we live, it’s about the UK’s standing in the world, it’s about British jobs and it’s about opportunities for British people now and in the future.”
Similarly, Professor James Smith, Vice Principal International at the University of Edinburgh, said, “I think the EU benefits the University of Edinburgh in several ways, some direct and some indirect. We primarily see ourselves as a global university, rooted in Scotland, and membership of the EU is central to facilitating colleagues and students from the EU to live and work in Edinburgh. EU membership helps drive the diversity that defines our campuses.
“In terms of research funding Edinburgh benefits enormously. In the 2014-15 academic year, we were the largest UK recipient of Erasmus Plus funding to facilitate mobility. This gives many opportunities to our students to live, work and study abroad. The majority of our international research takes place with partners in EU countries.
“International collaboration and the movement of people and knowledge are woven into the fabric of virtually everything we do and membership of the EU places the University at the heart of a knowledge economy rather than on the periphery, directly and indirectly.”
Universities Scotland, which represents sixteen Scottish universities, is still deliberating its stance in the debate, having remained neutral throughout the Scottish Independence Referendum campaign last year.
Photo Credit: TSPL