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Our staff are equal partners, friends and colleagues: Vice-Chancellor

Sir David Bell


It is a week since the UK electorate voted to leave the European Union. What a week it has been as our country, as well as the rest of the world, comes to terms with this momentous decision.

I wrote to you shortly after the referendum result was announced with initial advice and comments. Since then, the University Executive Board (UEB) has taken soundings from many colleagues across the University, and beyond. I wanted therefore to provide you with an update.

First and most importantly, our whole community expresses unreserved support for, and commitment to, all of our staff and students from wherever in the world they come.

Our message is unambiguous. You are equal partners, friends and colleagues. You play a vital role in the life of the University. And we are proud of your outstanding contribution - past, present and future.

Second, I want to underline again that, for the moment, it is business as usual.

As of now, the UK remains a full member of the EU, with the same enshrined legal rights as the other 27 member states. We will remain a full member until the end of the two-year negotiation to withdraw, once Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon is triggered. That now seems likely to be in the autumn at the earliest.

The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills has confirmed this week that there is absolutely no change to the visa requirements and immigration status of EU nationals. The Student Loans Company also announced that all existing EU national students, and those starting in September 2016, would still access tuition loans for the full duration of their course. There is no change to terms and conditions for either staff or students here at the University of Reading.

Third, many academics and research teams at all levels have expressed concern about the medium and long-term impact of Brexit on their work.

The Prime Minister and the EU Research, Science and Innovation Commissioner confirmed the following this week: 

  • all current Horizon 2020 and other EU-funded projects will be fully honoured;
  • UK institutions and researchers remain fully eligible to apply for funding from Horizon 2020; and
  • the UK remains a full financial contributor to Horizon 2020 - and we expect to retain full access to EU research networks in the short-term. 

The UK's access to Horizon 2020, and its successor programme following withdrawal from the EU, will be subject to future negotiations. We will keep you fully up to speed with developments. In the meantime, we expect all consortia and grant applications to be properly peer-reviewed, treated strictly on their merits and without fear or favour.

No one in the research community is in a position to second guess the final deal the UK government will agree with the EU; when it will come into effect; or the transitional arrangements. However, it is very encouraging that colleagues across Europe have spoken with one voice this week - sending a clear message about protecting our access to EU investment and collaboration. We have a very strong case to make and the sector must focus on getting the very best deal for universities in the months and years ahead. We will want to engage the research community at Reading as part of this ongoing work.

Today, we are publishing an information page for existing EU national staff and their UK colleagues on the Staff Portal. We will keep this page fully up-to-date with advice from the UK government, Universities UK and other partners. The University is also establishing a working group to assess the immediate and longer-term impact on it of the UK’s decision to leave the EU. We will share details with you in due course.

A final point. 

In these uncertain times, universities have never been so important. It is our duty to guard against the risk of a narrow nationalism taking hold. We also need to push back against the dangerous anti-intellectualism that led to ‘experts’ being derided during the referendum campaign.

Now, more than ever, expertise is required and universities are well placed to assist as our country enters uncharted territory. Rest assured too that the University of Reading will always assert and celebrate its role as a place of enlightenment in the finest European tradition - where the pursuit of knowledge is nurtured, promoted and cherished.

Sir David Bell KCB


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