University reaction to Brexit result

As the result of the UK's referendum on whether to remain or leave the European Union has finally been announced, academics and staff at Leicester have been giving their reaction to what is undoubtedly an historic decision for the United Kingdom and the EU. With the UK's exit from the EU now decided on by the electorate, our experts express their views on the impact both now and in years to come:

Responding to the result of the EU referendum, Professor Paul Boyle, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester, said: "This is a shocking result for the nation and its universities and a dark day for UK science. Universities were aligned in their view that remaining in the European Union would be to the benefit of their students and staff.

"Now that the electorate has decided that we should leave, there needs to be some very careful negotiation about how we continue to collaborate freely with our European partners for the benefit of science, society and our economy.  We need to offer support to our European colleagues and students who are working and studying in the UK, and we need to begin campaigning immediately to protect the science budget.

"One of the priorities for higher education as well as the country in the short term will be to seek stability and reassurance. There will be questions that must be addressed over our ability to continue to access the very significant levels of European funding for research and how the government will make up for any losses, and what impact Brexit is likely to have on the mobility of students and staff between Britain and EU countries. Every effort must be made both by the government and our universities to counter any impression that this result means that the UK has become less welcoming as a study or work destination for international students and staff.

“Given the political uncertainties arising from the vote, another question will be how it will affect the passage through parliament of the Higher Education and Research Bill. Since provisions in the Bill represent a fundamental shift in the HE and research landscape, the sector will need to know as soon as possible the implications for this legislation.”

Professor Panicos Demetriades, Professor of Financial Economics, said: "As I have been saying over the past few weeks and months, a vote in favour of Brexit will unleash unprecedented political and economic uncertainty, not only in the UK but also throughout Europe, which will weigh heavily on the British economy and the value of sterling.  All this is already happening and it will be several months before negotiations for a new deal with the EU can even start, as a new government will now need to be formed. We are already witnessing unprecedented volatility in financial markets, as indeed many economists predicted."

Read Professor Demetriades's comments in full on Think:Leicester here.

Professor Iain Gillespie, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise, said: "The result of this referendum is the beginning of what promises to be a momentous period of change. The Government must act to support our universities and our collective mission of scholarship in an open and tolerant environment. We need to avoid isolation, including from EU financial support. It's time now to boost UK commitment to research excellence and reverse the decline in investment in science that we have seen over the past decade.

“Every university will be making their best efforts to reassure the many non-UK nationals who form such a crucial part of our research endeavour and transparently recommit to a strong open and global-facing ethos. Government needs to echo these sentiments and take steps to strengthen – not weaken – UK universities’ ability to recruit and retain the very best.”

Registrar and Chief Operating Officer Dave Hall said: "The view expressed by UUK is very balanced and sensible. It's not the result we wanted, not a result which we think is in the long term interests of universities or the UK. It's very depressing.  We'll have to redouble our efforts to demonstrate that Leicester is a welcoming city and University to students from the EU."

Dr Sara Lemos, Lecturer in the Department of Economics, said: "Leaving the EU is terrible news. Terrible news for the UK, terrible news for Europe, terrible news in economic terms and terrible news in social terms. I don't think it will change immigration and red tape in the way people think and I think that the price we will pay will be far too high. I am baffled that voters would take such a risk and wonder whether they were well informed enough to make this choice. I have lived in the UK for nearly 20 years now and it is the first time I don't feel proud. I don't feel proud that the UK is leaving the EU."

Dr Simona Guerra, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Relations, said: "Surprised about the result? You shouldn’t be. The EU has recently lived multiple crises, financial and economic, the refugees’ crisis, following contested debates on austerity programmes, and the Greek referendum. That has been a turning point in the EU. But the call for a new leadership in order to tackle the challenges has remained unanswered.

"The referendum campaign in the UK unfolded with a massive and nasty narrative on the EU. Reading the cover of a newspaper close to UKIP in the days leading to the referendum can offer just a partial view: ‘Britain ‘has too many’ migrants’; Germany push for EU army’; ‘EU opens door to 79m from Turkey’; ‘Britain faces migrant chaos’; ‘Britain’s 1.5 million hidden migrants’; ‘Soaring cost of teaching migrant children’; ‘Migrants cost Britain £17bn a year’; ‘Migrant worker numbers surge’; ‘EU migrant numbers soar yet again’; ‘Migrants pay just £100 to invade Britain’; ‘The invaders’ (in capital letters); ‘‘Cover-up’ over migrants sneaking into UK’; ‘Migrant seized every 6 minutes’; ‘Proof we can’t stop migrants’; ‘EU ‘very bad’ for pensions’. The EU was never presented as a fact, but as a caricature or in the words that were seeking to disprove that caricature.

"The UK has always maintained a special relationship with the EU, in terms of policy areas, being the member state with the highest number of opt-outs, but also looking at public attitudes, in particular in England. As cited by a colleague, Jeremy Paxman well pitched this relationship, ‘England remained the only European country in which apparently intellectual people can use expressions like ’joining Europe was a mistake’ or ‘we should leave Europe’ as if the place can be hitched to the back of a car like a holiday caravan.’ And now the car has left without the caravan.

"The referendum campaign further polarised the EU narrative in the country. The salience of Euroscepticism has arisen and shifted its position from the margins to the mainstream of domestic politics. It shows, as suggested by John FitzGibbon, ‘pro-systemic opposition’ to the EU integration process, an alternative answer to the referendum question that would have probably gathered a few votes. The debate on the EU is complex, but is consistent and rational. Voting Leave did not answer any of these complexities, but left a country divided."

Dr Mark Langan, Lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Relations, said: "The European Union is now under siege. Marine Le Pen has declared that she wishes France to follow Britain’s example. Similar trends are afoot in the Netherlands and Italy. The United Kingdom is now on borrowed time, constitutionally. The SNP is already planning a second Scottish independence referendum under a 'Scotland in Europe' banner, which it will surely win. This is the logical course for Scotland in both political and economic terms. English nationalism is on course to gain even greater traction, and this will be reflected in Westminster under the ‘new’ Conservative Party under Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. The Left in England is now paralysed for the coming years, unsure of how to respond to Brexit and all that it represents. On a positive note, the fishing industry in Scotland and the North of England will now gain some reprieve from the Common Fisheries Policy. African countries currently being cajoled into unfair trade deals with the EU may also gain some negotiating leverage, since UK market access is no longer included in any EU-wide deal."

Dame Julia Goodfellow, President of Universities UK said in a statement: “Leaving the EU will create significant challenges for universities. Although this is not an outcome that we wished or campaigned for, we respect the decision of the UK electorate. We should remember that leaving the EU will not happen overnight, there will be a gradual exit process with significant opportunities to seek assurances and influence future policy.

“Throughout the transition period our focus will be on securing support that allows our universities to continue to be global in their outlook, internationally networked and an attractive destination for talented people from across Europe. These features are central to ensuring that British universities continue to be the best in the world.

“Our first priority will be to convince the UK Government to takes steps to ensure that staff and students from EU countries can continue to work and study at British universities and to promote the UK as a welcoming destination for the brightest and best minds. They make a powerful contribution to university research and teaching and have a positive impact on the British economy and society. We will also prioritise securing opportunities for our researchers and students to access vital pan-European programmes and build new global networks.”

Universities UK have published a set of Brexit FAQs on their website, setting out our latest understanding on the implications of the referendum result for universities and students.

Leicester experts have been commenting on the possible outcomes of Brexit throughout the referendum campaign, and you can read all their views and listen to their interviews here.