John Redwood’s diary is a thought provoking blog. Today’s post, Some reality breaks out in the EU, is a case in point, this section:
Meanwhile I see the Evening Standard on line gives prominence to the fear that university research will be damaged by Brexit. Have they not heard Ministers stating clearly talented and well qualified people will be free to come to the UK. This will include faculty members, with an open door for foreign students to undertake courses at our universities.
prompting a reply from me, as follows:
There’s a lot of rubbish talked about EU membership and British universities.
Until recently I was a university lecturer (including during last year’s referendum campaign in which I participated as a Leave campaigner while my university, including the vice chancellor, was strongly and officially for Remain). At my university there were and still are many foreign students and many foreign members of staff. The very great majority of these were from outside the EU, especially from China and the middle east. Some of those from EU countries came to Britain before their home countries entered the EU. All came on the relevant visas. I only remember one case where immigration processes caused difficulty – a new member of staff from an African country was delayed in taking up his post because of the time it took to issue a visa. But none of this is affected by Brexit.
In respect of international research projects, notably those funded through EU programmes such as Horizon 2020, I often heard that British universities got more out of the EU science programmes than they put in (we’re pretending, here, of course, that money is not fungible). My response to that was that British universities did well out of these programmes for two reasons, reasons not affected by Brexit: first, their expertise – many British universities are world-beating; secondly, the English language – the international language of science gives Britain a natural advantage. These factors are not going away with Brexit, and if universities from the residual EU wish to collaborate with British universities, to gain the benefit of their expertise, they will still be able to do so, including in programmes such as Horizon 2020 and likely successors (many non-EU countries participate in Horizon 2020). Of course, it is conceivable that the residual EU will exclude the UK from future programmes for political reasons, but I doubt that would happen and, if it were to come to pass, we’d be back at the old question of whether we really want to be in a club that seeks to punish us for leaving.
Universities are notoriously risk averse. During the referendum campaign it was no surprise to me that university managers were afraid of change. (I don’t mean just my own former university, but universities all over the country – all of them, I think.) But they will do very well outside the EU, when Britain is once again standing on its own two feet.