SCOTLAND’s leading universities are part of a major new campaign to persuade British voters to keep the UK in the European Union.
The Universities UK group of 133 universities from across the country – which includes famous names such as St Andrews, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Glasgow and Strathclyde – yesterday launched the campaign to highlight the “overwhelmingly positive impact” being in the EU has on higher education in this country.
Staying in Europe is about jobs and opportunitiesDame Julia Goodfellow
However, the move may not be reciprocated by Universities Scotland, the umbrella group north of the Border, which is currently “taking soundings” on whether to take a position and was neutral during the independence referendum.
The event in London saw university vice-chancellors joined by pro-EU politicians from across parties to make the case for staying in the EU.
It came amid reports that the referendum could take place in less than a year’s time in June next year with negotiations still under way between the UK Government and EU member governments over changing the UK’s terms of membership ahead of the referendum.
Dame Julia Goodfellow, president of the Universities UK group, told the event in London that they must “stand up and be counted”.
She said: “It is abundantly clear that the UK’s membership of the European Union has an overwhelmingly positive impact on our world-leading universities, enhancing university research and teaching.
“The case for staying in Europe is about ensuring the future prosperity of the UK, it’s about maximising the chances of new discoveries that enhance the society in which we live, it’s about the UK’s standing in the world, it’s about British jobs and it’s about opportunities for British people now and in the future.”
Dame Julia pointed out that 14 per cent of academic staff in UK universities are from the other EU countries and 125,000 EU students studied at UK higher education institutions in 2013.
She said this generated £2.27 billion and created 19,000 jobs.
In addition, she said the UK receives £1.2 billion in European research funding each year and is the largest beneficiary of EU research funds.
However, a spokeswoman for Universities Scotland said that it may remain neutral as an organisation. Currently, three of its members – Glasgow School of Art, the Royal Conservatoire Scotland and the University of the Highlands and Islands – are not members of Universities UK while the rest have signed up to its campaign.
She said: “We are currently taking soundings and a decision won’t be made until September but we remained neutral in the independence referendum.”
She added: “There are positives for being in the EU such as free movement but there are negatives such as EU students being entitled to free tuition in Scotland which is very expensive.”