To maintain Britain’s education status and ensure quality, the country should remain a member of the European Union, says university lobbying group Universities UK. Prime Minister David Cameron is to hold a referendum for the country’s staying in or leaving the EU in the summer of 2016.
The group says that a ‘Brexit’ — a British exit of the EU — could damage the research capabilities of British universities and harm international academic partnerships and collaborations.
“This is about ensuring the future prosperity of the UK,” said Julia Goodfellow, president-elect of Universities UK.
“It is about maximizing the chances of new discoveries that enhance our society, it’s about tackling major challenges … it’s about the UK’s standing in the world, and above all it’s about opportunities for British people now and in the future,” Reuters reports.
Goodfellow, who is the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Kent, added her case for keeping Britain in the EU:
“It is abundantly clear that the UK’s membership of the EU has an overwhelmingly positive impact on our world-leading universities, enhancing university research and teaching. UK universities are at the heart of the biggest knowledge producing region in the world – and we all benefit from that – individuals, the economy and society”.
In 2013, British universities received about £1 billion for research. According to Universities UK, there are more than 125,000 EU students in British universities which cumulatively contribute over £2.2 billion to the economy. This figure also translated to 19,000 jobs being created.
The stay-in-the-EU campaigners mention the development of graphene as one positive outcome of EU investment. The 200-times stronger-than-steel material research was possible with EU funding back in 2007. The research culminated with the scientists being awarded a Nobel prize for their research.
UKIP, the British political party advocating an exit from the EU, says that EU funding toward British academics means their stance in the Brexit debate is not impartial. The Labour Party said through spokesman Chuka Umunna that university leaders are reliable, apolitical voices in the EU membership debate:
“Given that we know the voices outside of politics are more persuasive than the ones in politics, I think it would make sense for a non-politician to head up the umbrella ‘yes’ campaign.”
Shadow Chancellor George Osborne says that Britain’s EU renegotiation should focus on establishing a financial and trade-focused relationship with the rest twenty-seven EU member countries.
The campaign of Universities UK to lobby for keeping the UK in the Union was unanimously endorsed by its board, which represents 133 university vice chancellors. The organization says that the Brexit threat has united higher education like a few others issues have managed to do.