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Universities UK declares “in” stance in UK’s EU debate

The representative body of higher education in the UK, Universities UK, has nailed its colours to the mast in the country’s in-out European Union referendum debate. The organisation has launched a Universities for Europe campaign in a bid to back membership of the EU.

Dame Julia Goodfellow, Universities UK president-elect, professor Michael Arthur, president and provost at University College London, Chuka Umunna MP and Damian Green MP at the University for Europe campaign launch. Photo: The PIE News

Prime Minister David Cameron has not set a date for the in-out referendum but has said it will be held before the end of 2017

Remaining in the EU makes the UK’s universities “stronger” and contributes to “economic growth, employable graduates and cutting edge research discoveries” argued Julia Goodfellow, president-elect of UUK at the launch today in London.

“The European Union supports research, knowledge, innovation and technology – the factors that will decide future economic growth, productivity and human progress,” she said. “It is in part through our membership of the EU that UK universities are creating employment opportunities and innovations –strengthening the UK’s position in the world.”

“It is in part through our membership of the EU that UK Universities are creating employment opportunities”

Goodfellow underlined that 14% of academic staff in UK universities are from the other European countries while 125,000 EU students studied at UK higher education institutions in 2013, generating £2.27bn and creating 19,000 jobs.

Additionally, the UK receives £1.2bn in European research funding a year and is the largest beneficiary of EU research funds to universities.

“By supporting collaboration and breaking down international barriers, the EU helps UK universities to deliver cutting-edge research and to make discoveries that improve people’s lives and enhance the UK’s global influence.” said Goodfellow.

She was joined by Labour and Conservative MPs who have both come out in favour of the UK’s membership in the EU despite no clear party lines being drawn on the issue yet.

Chuka Umanna, Labour MP and Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, argued that the campaign couldn’t be “won by captains of industry or politicians at lecterns lecturing Britain– it needs to be a grassroots bottom up campaign”.

“We need a broad range of faces of the campaign who are authentic, credible and win people over to the cause– not only universities and business but environmental organisations, consumer groups, our creative industries and others,” he said.

Meanwhile, Damian Green, Conservative MP and chairman of the pro-EU group, Conservative European Mainstream, pointed out that not just universities benefit from EU membership.

“The Erasmus scheme means young people from all over Europe can enjoy each other’s cultures and traditions. It is no surprise that young people are among the strongest supporters of Britain remaining in the EU. For them, Europe is home.”

Prime Minister David Cameron has not set a date for the in-out referendum but has said it will be held before the end of 2017. In the meantime, he is holding bilateral talks with EU leaders to negotiate new terms of the country’s membership, including a four-year freeze on benefits for low-skllled EU workers.

Both MPs and Goodfellow conceded that while the European Union isn’t without its faults, a reformed EU would still benefit UK universities.

“We want to get all people in university life involved so it will involve making sure our students can vote in the referendum”

“Of course, we recognise that the EU is far from perfect,” said Goodfellow. “The UK’s International Higher Education Unit is playing an active role in the debate in Brussels. However, for the UK to have significant say in any reforms, we need to commit to a future in the EU.”

Through the campaign, UUK said it wants universities to inform and strengthen discussions around the issue and for campuses to be a place to host public debate.

Speaking with The PIE News, Goodfellow said that despite no official referendum date, UUK is keen to start conversations around the issue.

“We want to get all people in university life involved so it will involve making sure our students can vote in the referendum, and we’ve done that before for the election. We work very closely with our student unions to make sure that that happens,” she said.

“We want more debates on campus, we want to empower our academic staff to work in very relevant areas across the whole breadth of attitudes toward the EU to come out and speak their minds.”

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