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EU referendum result: Open letter from the Vice-Chancellor Sir David Bell – University of Reading

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EU referendum result: Open letter from the Vice-Chancellor Sir David Bell

Release Date 24 June 2016

Vice-Chancellor Sir David Bell

We now know the UK electorate has voted for the country to leave the European Union (EU). This is a huge moment in our history and, not unreasonably, staff and students will have questions about the impact on our day-to-day work.

The straight answer is that, for the moment, it is business as usual.  We cannot say what the medium or long-term implication will be for universities, the research community and what we do here at the University of Reading.

The UK will remain a full member of the EU until the negotiation to withdraw is completed. Under Article 50 of the EU's Treaty of Lisbon, there will be a set two-year limit to reach agreement starting from the day the UK formally applies to the European Council - although given the complexity of the negotiation ahead, this deadline may well be extended. The UK's future relationship with the EU will be negotiated separately alongside the withdrawal agreement, with careful transition arrangements which could take up to a decade to put fully in place.

The immediate issue is, in light of the referendum result and the Prime Minister's announcement to resign, whether the UK has a government which can command a majority in the House of Commons to trigger an application to withdraw, back a negotiation strategy and agree the specific terms the UK will seek from the EU.

While it is early days, I want to address some likely immediate questions we will have:

Existing EU students, offer-holders for 2016/17 and prospects for 2017/18: at this point, there is no change to their immigration status; access to student loans for tuition fees; and contractual terms and conditions. The University will continue to market itself and recruit as normal from EU member states and internationally for 2016/17 onwards. The priority for the sector in the negotiations will be protecting freedom of movement for EU students.

EU research grants and pan-European collaborations: at this point, we expect existing EU-funded project grants and collaborations to be fully honoured until the end of their contracted period. The UK's status as a full participating member of the Horizon 2020 programme, contributing into central EU research funds, has not changed. The University will continue to support academics wishing to submit new applications for EU-funded research and, at this point, we expect applications to be considered on their merits, without fear or favour. The priority for the sector will be protecting our access, as best we can, to EU research networks and funding.

Non-UK EU staff: at this point there is no change to their immigration status and no change to the contractual terms and conditions of EU nationals holding University of Reading contracts. We will continue to recruit EU nationals already in the UK and abroad from their home countries. We will, of course, support UK national staff working in Europe as part of their job. Again, a big priority for the sector will be to protect freedom of movement for all staff.

EU and UK students studying under the Erasmus+ programme: at this point, there is no change to their immigration status in the UK or abroad. All students will continue to be eligible for Erasmus+ exchange programme grants. We have set an ambitious mobility target of 20% of graduates spending part of their degree overseas by 2020 and 33% by 2026. That means our Study Abroad team and Schools will continue to support Erasmus+ exchanges (which includes institutions in non-EU member states) and other international mobility schemes. Overall, the University will continue to maintain and strengthen existing transnational education partnerships and seek new ones with partner institutions across EU member states.

Three final points:

First, along with fellow members of the University Executive Board (UEB), I wanted the UK to remain part of the EU. We believed, very strongly, that it was in the best interests of the University of Reading and the country more generally. However, we have to respect the democratic will of the British people and plan for the future.

We have, and will always have, global ambitions and an international outlook. Our ambition does not stop at the borders of the EU. We now have a permanent base in South-East Asia with the University of Reading Malaysia and exciting new initiatives like the NUIST-University of Reading Academy with our friends and partners in China. We are long-established in Johannesburg with Henley Business School Africa. We are adopting a new global engagement strategy and have a strong recruitment operation for students across the world. The University will continue to seize potential new opportunities which open for us.

Second, I have had some questions about whether it was right for the University, as an institution, to remain neutral and apolitical during the campaign. The fact is that universities are places of debate, discussion and hard analysis. We enshrine our values of academic freedom and freedom of speech in our Royal Charter, our constitution and governance policies. We respected the right of our staff and students to campaign on either side of the debate.

The two official EU debates we held with RUSU showed our community at its best; intelligent, perceptive, constructive, asking hard questions and pushing speakers on the answers. The many debates and discussions on the EU across our campuses throughout the last six months showed staff and students taking on the issue from every conceivable angle.

Above all, the most important role we played with RUSU was to campaign and encourage as many of our community to register to vote and exercise their democratic right. This was the biggest vote for a generation and it was vital that all our voices were heard.

Third, there are significant challenges ahead and it is our duty as an institution to rise to them. The priority for the sector during the coming months and years will be minimising the disruption to the UK's science, research and higher education sector. The vote does not change the fact we are operating in a globally competitive market. Our students will be graduating into what will be, potentially, a very difficult economy and employment market post-Brexit.

Clearly, we will do all in our power to keep you fully informed as the picture becomes clearer. Universities UK (UUK), the representative body for vice-chancellors, will be publishing its initial advice to the sector today. We will be working very closely with UUK, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), other universities and our sector partners to gain a clear understanding of, and agreement on, the next steps.

For my part, I look forward to working with staff and students here as, together, we seek to make the right decisions for the University and the wider higher education community.

Sir David Bell KCB


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