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The UK’s university sector will face an uncertain future if the country votes to leave the European Union in the forthcoming referendum, Professor Dame Julia Goodfellow has warned.
The president of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Kent says in a new paper that it would be a “dangerous game” to assume that the country’s universities could still access European funds from outside of the EU.
In an article for the All-Party Parliamentary University Group, Professor Dame Julia makes the university case for backing the “in” campaign, while the Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin argues that UK universities would be better off outside.
The papers were commissioned by the Group after a meeting concluded that it would be useful to set out a remain and a leave argument in the form of short essays in order to help inform the debate.
In her essay, Professor Dame Julia says UK universities do better than almost all other member states in terms of EU research funding, but the main reason for staying in the EU is collaboration rather than cash and that by working closely with their European neighbours, UK universities can benefit research, the economy and society as a whole.
“The reason that EU support is so unique, and irreplaceable at national level, is that it is collaborative,” she said.
“It brings together top minds from across Europe and beyond to tackle global challenges which require global solutions.”
Professor Dame Julia said universities agreed “a Brexit would mean cutting ourselves out of the established networks and unique support that the EU provides, and risks undermining our status as a world-leader in science and the arts”.
Bernard Jenkin, who chairs the Commons’ Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, believes a Brexit would mean “our brilliant universities will grow all the stronger” by “embracing the world”.
He points out that four UK universities are in the top 10 of the QS World University Rankings - and more are in the top 50 - while just two from the rest of the EU are in the top 50.
“The receipt of EU funding makes universities keen clients of the EU,” he said, but it was “fear-mongering” for vice chancellors to suggest universities would lose grants if the UK left the EU, because non-EU universities did receive EU funds.
“It is the UK knowledge base of our universities that makes the UK so attractive for EU research funds,” he said.
But Professor Dame Julia said: “We have no idea whether, and on what terms, the UK could negotiate access to EU research programmes outside the EU”.
Continued participation in EU programmes would require approval from all 27 remaining member states and this was unlikely, “given that the UK currently wins about 10% of EU research funding”.
Mr Jenkin said the UK government would continue to invest in research and would have extra funds for this if it were not paying “some £20 billion per year to the EU budget”.
Collaboration would not stop, he said, and the only likely change might be to the Erasmus exchange programme. Even then, because so many wanted to come to the UK on that scheme, it was likely an arrangement would be made.
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