The University and City Council have both released pro-European statements this week. The statements reﬂect the views of the majority of Oxford students who, according to Cherwell’s survey of over 750 students last term, want Britain to remain in the EU by a margin of over 65 percentage points.
The Registrar of the University, Professor Ewan McKendrick, released a statement in favour of the EU which was sent to all students last week. The full statement, stresses the exchange of the ideas, the participation in pan-European research and access to EU research funding, £66 million in 2014/2015.
It reads, “The mobility that EU membership aﬀords, which enables staﬀ and students from across the EU to come to Oxford, and Oxford staﬀ and students to work and study in Europe, is central to our Strategic Plan. This contains at its heart the exchange of ideas that strengthens our ability to contribute to society and to the national and local economy, and provides intellectual beneﬁt in partner universities and research institutes.”
“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed by our University’s statement”
The City Council recently voted to pass a Green motion in support of the referendum, “The City Council has beneﬁted directly from more than £1 million of EU funding and, in May 2015, the City’s Finance Panel took evidence from three of the South East regions MEPs identifying more than seven other potential EU funding streams that the City Council could apply for.”
Oliver Shore, co-chair of Oxford Students for Britain, a group campaigning to leave, commented, “I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed by our University’s statement” but responded to the points raised by the University: “To go through a couple of examples pertinent to universities, the majority of EU funding for academic institutions is channelled through a programme called Horizon 2020, which also funds projects in Iceland, Norway, Turkey, and Israel… The same goes for the cherished Erasmus scheme.”
Eilidh Macfarlane, a co-chair of Oxford Students for Europe, told Cherwell, “It is not surprising that [the University] feel the need to intervene in the referendum debate in order to highlight this. Leaving the EU would be damaging to Universities across the UK which beneﬁt greatly from EU led cooperation over research, free movement for staﬀ and students and research funding.”
On 23 February, 198 business leaders, including thirty 36 FTSE 100 companies, signed an open letter backing the campaign to stay in the EU. 103 university vice-chancellors earlier penned their own letter in which they “urge the British public to consider the vital role the EU plays in supporting our world-class universities.” More recently, President Obama angered members of the ‘Leave’ campaign with his warning about the potential trade ramiﬁcations of Brexit. Slowly but inexorably, big institutions and their leaders are lining up behind the ‘Stay’ banner.
The slightly cynical explanation for the trend is economic rationale. The business leaders wrote that “Business needs unrestricted access to the European market of 500 million people to grow, invest and create jobs”; these new statements draw attention to £66 million university funding in 2014/15. It’s quite possible that some of the estimates warning against Brexit would prove accurate, and that the leaders of these big institutions are making a calculated judgement on that premise.
It’s also possible, however, that this trend is more emotionally based. Big institutions are rarely fervent opponents of the status quo: lots to lose, little to gain. The ﬁnancial implications of a post-renegotiation Brexit are near impossible to calculate; the eﬀect of uncertainty on consumer or investor conﬁdence is apparent with every newspaper article. For large organisations, unpredictability causes logistical headaches, and so the safest approach might be to hope it all blows over, irrespective of each sides’ merits. If this is true, it doesn’t follow that these ‘Stay’ supporters are misguided; it does mean, however, we should view their statements critically.