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

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

Release Date 04 July 2016

Sir David Bell

It is 11 days since the UK voted to leave the EU.

The University of Reading published advice and information last week for the community on campus. Now I would like to update our alumni - more than 270,000 in total - about the University's response and the action we have taken to date.

First, the University Executive Board has expressed unreserved support for, and commitment to, all of our staff and students wherever they come from in the world.

Our message is unambiguous. Whatever the external perception of the UK may be over the next few years, international staff and students are equal partners, friends and colleagues. They play a vital role in the life of the University. Their contribution - past, present and future – has been, and will be, outstanding

Second, it is business as usual for the moment. 

The UK remains a full member of the EU until the end of the two-year negotiation to withdraw, once Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon is triggered.

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 national staff or students. 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.

We have published the latest information for existing EU students, offer-holders and prospects on the main website. We have also published the latest information for existing EU national staff and their UK colleagues in a dedicated area on our Staff Portal.

These briefings are in the public domain and will be kept fully up-to-date with advice from the UK government and our partners in the higher education sector.

Third, our duty now is to plan for the future and help secure a long-term deal, with the rest of the higher education sector.

Reading has, and will always have, a global 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.
  • we are well-established in Johannesburg with Henley Business School Africa.
  • we have hundreds of research and teaching partnerships across the world.
  • we have launched our new global recruitment campaign called Be Red for 2017/18 onwards and will continue to market ourselves across the EU, with a positive message that our door is open to all students.
  • we are adopting a new global engagement strategy and have a strong recruitment operation for students across the world.


All this will continue.

We are getting on with the business of research, teaching and study here in the UK. We launched our first national fundraising and volunteer campaign last month - called Imagine. We are starting our new capital building programme and putting in place our new operating model, enabling us to reinvest for the long-term in frontline academic work and student services.

Fourth, academics at all levels have expressed concern about the uncertainty over research funding and collaboration.

Both the Prime Minister and EU's Research, Science and Innovation Commissioner confirmed last week that:


  • 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, retaining full access to EU research networks.


However following withdrawal, UK's access to Horizon 2020, its successor programme and other funding streams will be subject to the future negotiations.

There is all to play for. 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.

We are working with Universities UK (the umbrella body for the sector) in exploring a range of models for future relationships with the EU. We will make clear the sector’s priorities for exit negotiations and the required domestic policy change, with a detailed set of ‘asks’. 

It is very encouraging that colleagues across Europe have spoken with one voice this week. This sends a clear message about protecting our access to EU investment and collaboration. It strengthens our case in getting a strong settlement for the sector in the long-term. 

We will keep you up to speed on this work in due course. 

Some final points

The University remained neutral and apolitical during the referendum campaign. We fully respected the right of our staff and students to campaign on either side of the debate. Universities are places of debate, discussion and hard analysis. The values of academic freedom and freedom of speech are enshrined in our Royal Charter, our constitution and governance policies.

The two official EU debates we held with the Reading University Student Union (RUSU) showed our community at its best: intelligent, perceptive, constructive. Above all, the most important role we played with RUSU was to campaign for students to register to vote and exercise their democratic right.

In the aftermath of the referendum, 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, our 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.

Thank you for your continued support to the University. I would welcome your thoughts, advice and input over the coming weeks.

Best wishes.



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