A view of Higher Education in the EU

A post by John Saunders, first of two posts in which City UCU members explain their position on the EU referendum.

Map produced by Daniel Feher http://www.freeworldmaps.net/printable/europe/

© Daniel Feher http://www.freeworldmaps.net/printable/europe/

Let’s stay where we belong, in Europe as Europeans
My reasons for wanting the UK to remain in the EU are probably more emotional than rational. To me international cooperation is preferable to being an isolated little Englander and the EU is one way of embracing this. Collectively the European nations have provided opportunities for regeneration, improving human rights, workers’ rights and equality as well as broadening students’ education and encouraging research partnerships. The EU is not a perfect institution, but as a member, the UK both benefits and has the opportunity to make improvements. Outside the EU, we are a go-it-alone country (possibly without Scotland) but still at the whim of global forces.

Higher Education
Let’s leave aside the arguments about sovereignty and economics and focus on the benefits of working across European borders to our staff and students? Much of what follows has been taken from the Complete University Guide website and their paper “EU Referendum – How does the European Union affect universities and students?

Staff and students from the EU
Large numbers of staff at UK universities, both academics and others, come from the EU; in some institutions 20% or more. This surely broadens the experience of both students and staff. Nearly 10% of City’s students come from the non UK EU and a recent study suggests that generally non UK EU students are high achievers.

Research grants and partnerships
The EU makes substantial financial contributions to research in UK universities; this is estimated to be close to £1b per year. This contribution continues to increase and in some cases the EU’s share of a university’s income is very substantial (as much as 15%).

Funding from the prestigious European Research Council (ERC) is allocated on the basis of research excellence and UK-based research has thus far secured over 20% of all funds disbursed. Four British institutions were among the 10 most successful recipients. Hence we can argue that the quality of UK research benefits from international contacts in both Europe and elsewhere. EU membership has encouraged the UK to be part of global teams of researchers and has fostered productive collaborations beyond the English-speaking world. As we learnt from the REF a higher quality of research is often associated with its international impact. Our position in Europe has allowed the UK to punch way above its weight in this area, both in terms of income and the world’s most highly-cited scientific research publications. We need to think carefully before putting our European and other international partnerships at risk.

The EU’s freedoms of movement rules simplify the process of studying abroad for both UK and EU students. The Erasmus scheme, a student exchange programme operating since 1987, offers students in the UK and Europe a chance to study across the continent. At any given time, several thousands of students are involved in the Erasmus programme and, over time, hundreds of thousands of UK students have studied at European universities.

One cannot claim that if the UK left the EU, our students and staff would lose the benefits of international cooperation. But inside the EU we share in structures, resources and goodwill that encourage and support collaboration across EU member states and beyond. Leaving the EU is unlikely to improve, and could weaken, these opportunities.