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Rt Hon Prime Minister Theresa May MP: Safeguard UK higher education

This petition had 2,318 supporters

Dear Prime Minister,

UK universities consistently rank among the global top in terms of research and education. A large part of the UK’s international reputation lies in its higher education and research. A threat to academia will harm the UK’s general reputation, as well as its ability to build international relations.

Recent months have seen an alarming increase in anti-immigrant rhetoric and the prospects of a hard Brexit.

Each poses a distinctive threat to academia that, if realized, would fundamentally damage the communities and institutions whose collective expertise are crucial to the intellectual, cultural, financial, and social vitality of this country and to the enrichment of our collaborators, colleagues, and friends in the wider global community.

We would like to state these threats in the genuine hope that the Government will take earnest action.

First, a hard Brexit will entail a loss of European Union funds, of which the UK is a net recipient. These cannot simply be replaced by alternative national sources because they involve international collaborations and the sums exceed the typical provisions for scientific research.

Second, British academia and society will lose out of the knowledge, skills, and innovations that is afforded by a culturally and intellectually diverse community of students, teachers, and researchers. We can only adequately understand the world and play constructive roles within it if our academic institutions reflect that world. This means promoting attitudes that make the UK’s social and academic communities genuinely welcoming, attractive, and appreciative.

Third, a loss of participation in the Erasmus programme will disadvantage home students who lose out on the valuable personal and intellectual opportunities afforded by living and studying overseas, and overseas students whom we can no longer welcome as friends and visitors to the UK. British and overseas students participating in Erasmus, moreover, bring valuable ties with other European countries as they return home. Given that the UK does not want to turn its back on Europe, this is of crucial importance.

Fourth, the threat of caps on the numbers of foreign students will impoverish academia both intellectually and economically. Overseas students are net contributors to the economy, but, more importantly, provide us generously with the richness of their skills, knowledge, experiences, cultures, and characters. When international students go back to their home countries, they often maintain enduring connections with the UK, which is of strategic importance for our ties with other countries. To exclude them will entail loss of our international reputation and reinforce a disturbing image of the UK as an insular and aversive society.

Fifth, the threat of caps on foreign workers will make it harder for UK institutions to hire the best candidates and to attract international talent to strengthen its workforce. This includes both established researchers who will be hesitant to come to a country that will be increasingly perceived as inward-looking and unwelcoming, and younger scholars who are often hired on specific research projects (postdocs). There is also an imminent threat of brain drain as UK and non-UK established researchers are starting to look for employment outside the UK.

Sixth, the anti-immigrant rhetoric and zeal for a hard Brexit are conspiring to erode the values fundamental to academic enquiry. These include a sense of the importance of cooperative community, of diversity as a source of richness, of solidarity as a condition of shared progress, and the deep desire to pool our intellectual and institutional resources to do better than the parochialism, aversion, and dogmatism that otherwise threaten to corrupt us.

We, the undersigned, urge the Government to appreciate the threats that current rhetorics, policies, and proposals pose to academia and to the prosperity, reputation, and integrity of the country. An attitude of insularity and a self-imposed enclosure run contrary to the economic and political realities of life in a globalised world, and diminish us as people and as a country.


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