In a referendum debate where swathes of the British media have no qualms about publishing an endless barrage of scaremongering half-truths, it is refreshing to hear clear, fact-based arguments from passionate pro-European voices. Representatives of British universities and the UK science community came together at the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium earlier this week to set out exactly why there is such strong support for EU membership across universities and the science community. Pro Europa was delighted to welcome the President of Universities UK Dame Julia Goodfellow and the organisation’s Deputy Chief Executive Alistair Jarvis, as well as Dr Mike Galsworthy, Programme Director of grassroots campaigns Scientists for EU.
We can be proud in the UK of fostering cutting-edge science and being home to some of the very best universities in the world. But the message was clear - the UK’s membership of the European Union makes our outstanding position even stronger.
Our universities, Dame Goodfellow explained, have been incredibly successful in winning the competitive grants offered by the EU, taking full advantage of the funds available. Depending on the focus of the university, these grants can amount to 25% of a university’s research funding. Are we really willing to effectively cut the research budgets, with no indication that the UK government would plug the gap?
An engine for collaboration
More than that though, most of the very best research is done by the best minds collaborating in teams working across borders. Indeed it has been found that research with international collaborators has nearly 50% more impact than research done at national level. Academics tell us that frameworks, programmes and funding from the EU support this kind of collaboration and make working across borders that much easier.
Dr Mike Galsworthy, the Programme Director of Scientists for EU, made a passionate case for the UK to remain in the EU grounded on the EU’s scientific prowess and the benefits for the UK’s science community. In fact, the EU produces over a third of the world’s scientific output –34[VC1] % more than the US. And Britain benefits from being at the helm of this scientific powerhouse.
Working together, UK and European researchers pool their resources, expertise, data and infrastructure to achieve more together than they could do alone. Many of today’s challenges are global, not national. In the EU, researchers can collaborate more easily to come up with solutions on an international scale, making the most of Europe’s diversity to achieve bigger and better results.
Indeed, 62% of scientific research in the UK involves collaboration with partners across borders, an asset which securing research that has around 40% more impact. Brexit could seriously limit the mobility of researchers and choke the international collaboration that has seen British science flourish in recent years.
“In the last few years some of our best students have come from outside the UK. The advent of the EU, and the workplace mobility, has had a considerable impact for the good, on teaching and research.” Emeritus professor of muscle physiology, Manchester Metropolitan University
Enhancing the student experience at university and beyond
The exchanges of UK and other EU students via the EU’s flagship Erasmus+ programme is another hugely undervalued benefit of EU membership, that we wouldn’t necessarily be able to just jump back into post-Brexit, as Switzerland recently found out. As well as culturally enriching the university experience both in the UK and abroad, participation in the Erasmus programme halves the chance of students facing long-term unemployment after graduation.
Benefits beyond the university campus
As Dame Julia Goodfellow explained though, it’s not only students, graduates and academics that benefit from the success of our universities within the EU: “This should matter to everyone because universities are about the future prosperity of the UK – driving the economy, creating jobs and enhancing our society.” Universities have a major positive impact on local economies, attracting investment, supporting and growing businesses and creating jobs. Universities are often the largest employers in their area, with many other jobs dependent on their expenditure and that of their students.
Beyond that, the cutting edge research coming out of British universities benefits us all – it brings about advances, discoveries and inventions that improve people’s lives – from medicine and healthcare to new materials, products and services.
What’s at stake?
Alistair Jarvis, the Deputy Chief Executive of Universities UK also highlighted that “the quality of our universities attracts around 125,000 continental European students who spend £2.67bn in UK each year.” That’s over of quarter of the balance of the UK’s total annual contribution to the EU budget. What’s more, around 15% of all academic staff in our universities bring their expertise and insights from other EU countries.
Let’s be clear. A Brexit puts both these factors at risk. If the UK does withdraw from the EU, it would at the very least mean a huge hike in fees for EU students in the UK, making British unis significantly less appealing to Europe’s brightest minds who might otherwise come to work, study and contribute to our economy. Many of the valuable staff, even before the referendum, have started looking for work back on the continent.
The arguments for remaining are compelling, and that’s why 83% of UK scientists and all 132 members of Universities UK are backing the remain campaign. We owe it to the future success of British science and universities to vote to stay in the EU an ensure