‘On Europe Day (9 May) we celebrate peace and unity in Europe, a theme that is particularly poignant in this year commemorating the outbreak of the First World War.
‘We should not forget the contribution to Europe’s post war stability made by the European Union (EU), awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012; disputes that in the past might have lead to diplomatic broadsides or worse are now settled in committee rooms in Brussels or Strasbourg. Many voices are calling for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU. Yet to do so would be bad for Higher Education – and much worse for our students and their future. Here’s why.
‘First, the EU provides a common economic space within which talent can move freely. Around 20% of staff at the University of Kent now come from other countries within the European Union: our reputation allows us to recruit the best and allows our students to benefit from international excellence. We also attract students from Europe and around the world; having these students on our campus enriches both learning and teaching. The University of Kent operates study centres within Europe: in Brussels, in Paris, in Athens and most recently Rome. The opportunity for studying at centres within other European institutions, together with a separate programme of worldwide placements, allows our students to gain a much wider perspective than they could within a single country. Increasingly businesses need leaders who have the cultural knowledge and sensitivity that comes from international experience.
‘Second, the EU enlarges the nation’s research base. Over 80% of the UK’s internationally co-authored papers are written with EU partners. The UK secures a disproportionate amount of EU research, development and innovation funding, over €6 billion – and every €1 of such funding has been calculated to increase the added value to industry by €13. The nature of EU research funding means that it complements and adds value to national structures, enabling projects individual member states could not undertake alone. And, because of the high reputation of UK researchers, we are able to influence the European agenda. The idea that we could outside the EU secure even a fraction of the money or influence is not viable. We have seen the effect on Swiss based researchers following their country’s referendum decision to restrict immigration from EU member states.
‘Third, we benefit economically from our international education links. The direct financial gain from EU students in fees and living expenses has been estimated at £2 billion a year, with the indirect benefits being even higher. Those educated in the UK by and large cherish that experience. They go on to be highly successful in their countries and continue to value their links with the UK. EU mobility programmes in turn represent the single biggest source of funding for UK students and staff hoping to pursue a study or work placement abroad.
‘Last, our membership of the EU matters because it helps define our view of ourselves. Some may be tempted to sit back and hope that the world will leave us alone. Of course, if we disengage, the world would get on without us. But we would also have less influence and less control over the environment within which our nation has to operate. By turning our back on the most important institution in our region, we would be damaging not just ourselves but also, much more importantly, our children and young people. We would do our students a severe disservice in restricting their ability to compete in the global economy.
‘The cathedral city of Canterbury has been a centre of learning for over 1400 years, connected to continental Europe in medieval times by the Lombard Way. The two-way traffic brought pilgrims and trade – and also learning. We still need to work with the world and influence our environment. The EU remains a source of opportunity not a threat. The University of Kent is proud to be the UK’s European university.’
Professor Dame Julia Goodfellow
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