Statement from the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge on the result of the EU Referendum

Statement from the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge on the result of the EU Referendum


Last updated 19 July at 15:51

The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge has reaffirmed that the institution will retain its place as “one of the leading institutions worldwide” post Brexit, while emphasising the value of Cambridge’s EU partnerships, staff, students and global alumni community. 

Speaking after a meeting of UK science leaders on 30 June, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz said: “Cambridge is very well placed to ensure we continue to work with partners in the UK, the EU and around the world as a global institution – a globally leading institution.”

Referring to the Referendum result he added: “That would have been easier had we remained in the EU but nevertheless we will continue to be the strongest and the best and Europe’s leading research university - even outside the EU.”

At the “Success as a Knowledge Economy” event in London hosted by the Department of Business Innovation and Skills (now BEIS), he told journalists: “We will come through this period of uncertainty and we will emerge at the far end of it as strong as we are now. We’ve weathered many storms in the past and our track record shows we can deal with them.”

The Vice-Chancellor went on to emphasise the value of EU staff, students and alumni. “We are a global community, internationally facing, and are proud of that fact. We value our staff, students and alumni both from the EU and around the world.

“What is hardly ever talked about are those people who come to work in the UK, including those who come to our university, and enhance the UK’s excellence. They develop companies, create jobs  - they are a positive asset to the UK and not the ‘drain’ that is so often portrayed.

 “As a university, our view has always been that there’s a positive side to migration I would like to see Britain adopting a positive attitude towards migrants coming to the UK - to give security to those who’ve decided to make Britain their home because I believe they can contribute enormously to the benefit of this country.

“The new government now has to decide on the scale of migration. If they cut back on this too far then there is the potential to do serious damage to the UK. Getting as close as possible to having good freedom of movement, particularly in the areas of science and technology, actually enhances opportunities for collaboration and for wealth creation in the UK. There have to be counter balances to some of the less well informed judgments that are being made on migration policy.”

He continued: “All I can urge is a resolution – as quick as possible – to the status of those from the EU. There are considerable uncertainties that they’re facing – many have families and dependents with them, and they need to know what their position is going to be in the university. We want those uncertainties resolved at the earliest opportunity so that they and their families can make decisions around their commitment to Britain. They want to make this fantastic country – and the UK is a fantastic country – their home. Uncertainty doesn’t help them do that.”

The Vice-Chancellor expanded on his statement pledging support to EU staff and students at the University of Cambridge, which included an assurance that EU students starting in 2016 will continue to pay the same fees as UK students.

He said: “We’re engaging with government so that we can give assurances we can keep the fees at the same level for 2017 entry, bearing in mind that we’re still going to be in the EU for this period. We’ve guaranteed 2016/17, and we’re very keen to move on to guarantee 2017/18 as well.”

He underscored Cambridge’s continuing strengths in research, technology and innovation, saying: “On the research side, the situation hasn’t changed – 17% of Cambridge’s research income comes from the EU. We are the top institution in the EU in terms of income from the European Research Council (ERC) as well as Horizon2020.

“The number of ERC grants the University of Cambridge holds is well above any other institution in Europe, which speaks for itself. We will continue to work with all of our colleagues in the UK and overseas in order to ensure that the UK remains hugely competitive internationally and is still the best destination for staff and students who want to work or study at a diverse working university that is right at the top of the international scale.

“If we can do that, we will continue to deliver to the British economy and deliver to people in Britain the sort of benefits that we have done over the centuries.

“The capacity of British scientists to engage in real global challenges remains undiminished. Our international collaborations remain crucial for the sector and for the United Kingdom as it continues to support our scientists and academics leading on major international problems such as energy sourcing, food security, health and welfare, disease – and countless other areas. These collaborations are key to maintaining the UK’s position as a world scientific leader.

“The challenges that affect us all are global and all of our international relationships have to be strong to work together to tackle them.

“What matters now is that the promises that the Leave campaign made - that they would secure resources for universities in order to maintain the UK’s competitiveness in science, technology and innovation - are actually kept.

“Delivering on promises that universities are not left financially disadvantaged by Brexit will be essential not only for our sector but for the UK’s economic wealth and wellbeing and its ability to translate science into real economic growth.

“I am looking to hold the new government to the fire on that - they have to deliver on those promises they made.

“The future of research funding is not straightforward. We don’t know what the position of negotiation is going to be, therefore we don’t know what access we would have in participating in major European programmes. What we do know is that Cambridge will be throwing its weight behind efforts to keep as close as possible to the world-leading position we are in now.

“What matters to me is that as we move forward, we have a negotiated settlement that leaves us as close as possible to our friends and colleagues in the European Union so that the sector that I represent and that Cambridge leads so successfully is best able to benefit from its collaborations and engagements.”

He explained that the benefits extend beyond research collaborations, to student exchange programmes such as Erasmus. “Erasmus allows students from continental Europe to come here and experience our institutions and -equally important- our students to have the experience of working in other EU countries. So I do hope that negotiations are shaped in a way that means our participation in Erasmus can continue. I think it would be a detriment if we were to lose that.”

The Vice-Chancellor argued a closer relationship with the European Union would also strengthen overseas partnerships outside the EU, saying: “Remember, the rest of the world is watching – those overseas partners whom we collaborate strongly with – China, India, the United States, Canada, Australia – felt Britain would be better off in the EU, therefore the closer the relationship we can have with the EU, the more confidence they will have in us.

“We want to show them that the UK is not a small minded country that wants to sit on the fringes of Europe but a country that is prepared to say, ‘OK we don’t agree with all aspects of the way the EU works but we recognise that there are strengths there that we can take advantage of’.

“At the same time, in many areas such as science and technology, we are world leaders and can continue to help our friends in the EU in a collaborative way.

The Vice-Chancellor argued that the University was in a strong position to take advantage of opportunities in a post-Brexit landscape. “The impact of top global universities such as Cambridge will become ever more important over the next 10 years. By sustaining our international presence, we continue to sustain economic growth in the UK. The Cambridge cluster, which has 4,000-plus companies engaged with it, and has created nearly 60,000 jobs locally and provides upwards of £12b per annum for the UK. That is only sustained because of the knowhow that Cambridge is able to generate. It is in the UK’s and international interests that we are able to maintain that presence.”

He also denied the Referendum vote had had any negative effects on research collaborations, saying: “We’re still very much engaged on European programmes such as the ANTIGONE programme, the Square Kilometre Array and many others. Nobody’s expecting us to take a back seat approach to that engagement.

 “We are still part of the EU. UK scientists and academics can still bid for EU funding. I would urge them to continue to do so because that is the way to sustain our activity and engagement on these major projects and programmes.”

The Vice-Chancellor argued that there is “every reason to be optimistic” about the future: “Where will the University of Cambridge be in 10 years’ time? I’ll go back to our mission statement – to contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning, and research at the highest international levels of excellence. That’s where the university’s going to be.

“Our interaction with EU countries will continue to grow. And our interactions with other global partners will continue to grow. We’ve always engaged with the United States, with countries in Africa, with India – it’s not an either/or situation. 

“We will continue to attract investment, and will see more coming from the Far East. Moody’s has recently rated the University of Cambridge ‘AAA stable’, a marker of how international community views us as a place to invest.

“We will continue to attract staff and students from around the world to come here and remain globally competitive.

“As I said before, it would have been easier within the EU. And going forward, the closer we are to our friends in the EU, the better.

“But we will continue to be international, we will continue to be successful – and we will always position ourselves to be in the top tier of universities.”

The Vice-Chancellor was speaking following the “Success as a Knowledge Economy” event at the Wellcome Trust’s London office, where Minister for Universities and Science Jo Johnson delivered a  speech  on the UK’s role in the age of global science to leading figures from science, higher education and the media.

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