Coimbra Group Vice-Chancellors from the UK on Brexit
30 September 2019
Professors Hugh Brady, Stuart Corbridge and Peter Mathieson, respectively Presidents/Principal of Universities of Bristol, Durham and Edinburgh
We will address two questions: what are the aspects of Brexit that concern us most and what can we do to mitigate risks? In addressing the second issue, our fellow Coimbra Group members can undoubtedly help us.
Our three universities share several characteristics: we are research-intensive, we have deep commitments to internationalisation, we wish to attract and retain talent from all over the globe and we are driven by the desire to contribute to societal benefit via our research, our teaching and our knowledge exchange. We are all passionate advocates of collaboration and recognise that the world’s major problems are best addressed by multi-disciplinary approaches. It will therefore be obvious that we value (and need) freedom of movement of people. Brexit would take the UK out of the current intra-EU immigration agreements. Therefore we warmly welcome the UK government’s recent announcements on the restoration of a two year post-study visa for international students and the lifting of the previous cap on numbers eligible for the “exceptionally talented” migrant visa scheme. Both these measures will be helpful to us if carried through into law. The instability in current UK politics means that we cannot be certain that these promises will become reality, but we are encouraged to think that they will. Immigration rules which make gifted EU nationals feel welcome in the UK, which encourage students from continental Europe to consider studying in UK universities and which enable the continuation of the free exchange of talent between the UK and the EU will be essential if UK universities are to retain their leading role in the academic world.
Brexit, especially if it occurs with no negotiated deal, poses challenges to many more aspects of university function than just free movement of people: two key examples are research funding and Erasmus. UK-based researchers have made substantial contributions to the design and delivery of EU-funded research and we consider it essential to our optimal research productivity in future for researchers in universities like ours to continue to have full access to these programmes. The Erasmus programmes are key elements of the student experience in the UK, and we believe that continued participation (or, as second best, the creation of a new similar scheme) are vital for our future.
We have been pleased by the consistent messaging from universities in continental Europe that they value UK universities as partners. We are proud of our active participation in networks like Coimbra Group. In addition, one of our universities is amongst only three UK universities to be successful in the first round of applications for European University Alliances, this being the UNA Europa Alliance of which Coimbra Group is also an Associated Partner. At a time when trends in global geo-politics are leading to doubts about the ability of universities to overcome geographical and/or political barriers to collaboration, we pledge our determination to engage actively through these alliances and others to ensure that political change does not diminish our potential to contribute to personal and societal transformation, to economic development and to social well-being. We owe this to our students, our staff, our alumni and the taxpayers who contribute to our funding. We also owe it to society: universities are critical components of the world’s response to an uncertain future. We hope and believe that our governments understand this and will work with us to ensure that there are no unintended consequences of Brexit or other major geo-political changes. Thank you to our fellow Coimbra Group members for being our friends and allies.