UWE VC voices Brexit concerns

UWE Bristol VC says remaining in EU is vital for our universities and communities

Professor Steve West, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West of England, is emphatic that staying in the EU is critically important not just for the future of our universities but for our regions, communities, business and trade.

As the Vice-Chancellor of UWE Bristol, I believe that it is vital that we remain in the EU.  It is clear from the evidence that membership of the European Union makes our outstanding British universities even stronger. This in turn benefits local communities and people by supporting the economy and helping to create jobs.

The decision to stay or leave is a decision that will impact on generations to come. The world is a small place with significant challenges. My personal view is that we need to work more effectively across continents to create better understanding, greater opportunities for health, wealth and prosperity.

Now is not the time to increase uncertainty about our futures. Now is not the time to stall investment and disrupt global projects. This is about the futures of young people and how we respond will impact for many years to come. I want to open opportunities up not close them out. That is why I’m clear we should remain and continue to shape and influence Europe.

Universities contribute £73 billion to the UK economy annually. The EU plays a crucial role in supporting this. Our membership helps to attract students and the brightest and best teaching staff from across the EU. It also supports ground-breaking, collaborative research that leads to innovations and discoveries that boost our economy, create new jobs and improve people’s lives. 

EU students make an invaluable contribution not only to economic growth, but to the local community and to academic life. They also help to promote an international and outward-looking culture on campus and across Bristol and the rest of the region.  And let’s not forget the benefits of UK students having easy access to study opportunities abroad.  Every year more than 800 students from Bristol alone study or undertake a work placement in the EU. 

Some will argue that European students and staff will still come to the UK if we’re not in the EU. This is a risky assumption to make. Leaving the EU means putting up barriers to work and study making it more likely that many of the brightest and best people will choose to go elsewhere – strengthening our competitors and weakening British universities and the local economies they support. The UK currently derives enormous benefit from EU initiatives which enable researchers to spend time working in other countries.  In one example of a scheme that encourages academic mobility – the Marie SkÅ‚odowska-Curie programme – the UK has received over 10% (€21m) of the total funding issued over the past two years.

This is a risky assumption to make. Leaving the EU means putting up barriers to work and study making it more likely that many of the brightest and best people will choose to go elsewhere – strengthening our competitors and weakening British universities and the local economies they support

EU research and innovation funding also has a positive impact on Bristol and the rest of the region by supporting new jobs and helping to generate new ideas, products and services. In the past seven years Bristol’s two universities have undertaken over 300 EU grant funded research projects, with a total value of more than £150 million. Here are three examples. 

In 2010 UWE Bristol and its partners received £7m of European Regional Development Fund monies from the EU in order to support the South West’s most innovative small and medium sized businesses. This directly led to the creation of 608 new, and the safeguarding of 389 threatened, regional jobs – as well as a £28m gross increase in GVA.  Do we really want to weaken our ability to achieve similar successes in the future?

A project at the Centre for Appearance Research  at UWE Bristol,  ‘When Looks get in the Way: Optimising patient outcomes through the training of health care professionals’ has just been published as the British Councils Erasmus+ project of the month. This Erasmus+ Key Action 2 Strategic Partnership is worth €210,000. UWE’s Martin Persson, Senior Research Fellow in CAR leads this consortium of six EU member states.

This project is developing appropriate training needs for health professionals to improve the current provision of care for those patients affected by appearance concerns. It is estimated that 148 million Europeans have a condition resulting in a visible difference of appearance which negatively impacts on self-esteem and social standing.  Often leading to, or, caused by mental health behaviours, as a result causing health-compromising behaviours, such as alcoholism. This project will provide health professionals with the skills necessary to tailor individual care and provide support these vulnerable patients across Europe. 

Enda Hayes, Director of the Air Quality Management Resource Centre, has recently been awarded a £5 million grant to work with a consortium, as academic lead, with 10 other Members States on Citizen Led Air pollution Reduction in Cities (CLAiR-CITY).  

Starting this May, the project will aim to substantially improve future air quality, carbon and health management policies in European cities by initiating new modes of engaging citizens, stakeholders and policymakers, by putting city inhabitants and their behaviour/practices at the centre of air pollution and carbon analysis and management. 

However, far more important than the money is the fact that by providing scale, access to established networks and programmes, EU membership helps UK and European universities to achieve more together than they could alone. From regional development activities to health treatments to climate change policy, this leads to cutting-edge discoveries that benefit everybody.

I firmly believe that UWE Bristol is stronger in Europe. This should matter to everyone in Bristol and across the West because universities support our future prosperity– driving the economy, creating jobs and enhancing our society.

Read another opinion on the EU referendum, and its potential impact on UK universities, here. 

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