Academic leaders, scholarly societies and student groups sent out a flurry of statements on Friday reacting to the British vote to exit the European Union, which many in higher education oppose and worry could harm research and inhibit the movement of students and scholars to and from the U.K.
Statements from the British Academy, which represents scholars in the humanities and the social sciences, and the Royal Society, which represents scientists, stressed the importance of mobility and the need to maintain financial support for research, which benefits from E.U. funding sources.
In various statements, U.K. university leaders -- about 100 of whom had signed an open letter prior to the vote opposing a leaving the E.U. -- affirmed their institutions' international outlooks and sought to assure current European students and staff that they are welcome and wanted. They also stressed that major changes are not expected to happen overnight: the process of Britain negotiating the terms of a withdrawal from the E.U. is expected to take at least two years.
In one such statement, Michael Arthur, the president and provost of University College London, wrote, “This morning, I have reassured UCL staff and students that, barring unilateral action from the U.K. government, the vote to leave the European Union does not mean there will be any immediate material change to the immigration status of current and prospective E.U. students and staff, nor to the U.K. university sector’s participation in E.U. programs such as Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+," programs for research funding and student exchange, respectively.
The National Union of Students expressed disappointment in the vote outcome. Pre-election polling from YouGov showed that young people overwhelmingly supported Britain remaining in the E.U. -- among 18- to 29-year-olds, 73 percent supported remaining in the union -- and in the university towns of Cambridge and Oxford, more than 70 percent of voters favored remaining, according to local election results reported by the BBC.
“This is clearly not the result that many young people wanted or voted for, but most important now is to ensure that students and young people are involved in the decisions that have to be made that will shape their future,” Megan Dunn, the national president of the student union, said. “We have urgent questions about how the vote to leave will affect students, particularly E.U. students in the U.K. and U.K. students studying in the E.U., and call on the government to offer clear assurances to them about their situation.”
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