Brexit – What should universities do in the run up to the referendum?

michael-arthur-3Professor Michael Arthur, President and Provost of UCL, speaks up in support for UK membership of the EU, highlighting the potentially harmful effects an exit could have on the UK’s Higher Education sector. Writing in a personal capacity, he reflects on the role that universities, and their Vice-Chancellors, should take in the referendum debate. Moreover, he argues that a ‘no’ vote would not only lead to a significant loss of research funding and risk diminishing the diversity of staff and students, but also to a loss of impact in setting the global research agenda.

With Prime Minister David Cameron’s draft EU reform deal on the table, current speculation is that the referendum vote could happen as early as June this year. A good time therefore to put fingers to keyboard and to express my personal view about what universities should (or perhaps should not) do as the debate intensifies.

As many will be aware, UCL hosted a launch event for UUK, during which this collective sector-wide body expressed a view that it would be very bad for UK Higher Education if we were to leave the European Union. It was a one-sided launch event and was never intended to be anything else, but nevertheless it attracted criticism, and was contrasted with the silent approach taken by Scottish universities during the referendum on independence for Scotland. Continue reading

Debating the EU at Universities: A Response to Menon

university-libraryWhat kind of debate on EU membership should we have at a university? Professor Jan Kubik, Director of the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies, replies to Anand Menon who has criticised Universities UK for taking sides against a UK exit from the EU. Kubik calls for contestation, but also for broadening the debate beyond narrow economic concerns. Universities, above all, he argues, should be places where such (critical) consideration of material interests is counterbalanced by a thoughtful examination of ideals.

Universities UK, an organisation created by the leaders of British universities, has taken a strong stance against Brexit. Professor Menon is right in worrying that ‘by taking such a clear stand on such a hotly debated political issue, universities may make it harder for their staff to foster precisely those sorts of debates that universities are meant to encourage‘. Such a ‘clear stand’, taken de facto by the top academic brass (at least so far), may stifle the debate, as ‘average’ academics will fear arguing against their ‘bosses’.

Menon then analyses briefly an argument for and against Brexit, from the point of view of British universities’ interests. The argument, important though it is, focuses exclusively on the material components. At the moment, EU research funding is very beneficial for British Universities (still regarded as the best in Europe), but – Menon argues – there may be ways to reconfigure this financing after the exit, without too much loss. Continue reading

The case for an EU referendum

Christopher Bickerton, lecturer in Politics at the University of Cambridge, discusses how how the impending EU referendum in the UK necessitates open and unbiased academic debate, and how British discussions of EU reform may reverberate across the European continent.

When the results of the British election were known, those studying the EU may have allowed themselves a quiet and discrete fist pump. David Cameron and the Conservative Party have made such firm assurances about organizing a referendum on EU membership that to renege on this promise is almost unimaginable. A referendum will take place, putting the EU at the heart of British political debate at least for the next couple of years and providing plenty of opportunities for the entrepreneurial EU studies researcher.

More generally though, responses to the forthcoming referendum have revealed some of the biases that exist amongst those studying the EU. Unsurprisingly, as with many other fields of inquiry, those who study the EU tend often to think it is a rather good thing. A referendum on British membership has therefore been perceived as an unwelcome event, more a threat than an opportunity. Attitudes range from the fearful to the reluctant.

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