Following last month’s disastrous referendum results (and no I won’t be pretending to be non-partisan about it) there has been a well-documented backlash against immigrants and anyone who doesn’t look quite British enough for the UKIP/Britain First brigade.
The awfulness of the referendum result and the resultant rise in hate crime is unfathomably horrific. If the UK is allowed to isolate itself and become the purely inward looking, bigoted nation that many Leave voters support the fallout will be manifold.
Not only does this new wave of racism harm many people, including UK citizens whose only crime is to not be ‘English’ enough, but also the country which the bigots claim to love.
From the point of view of the higher education sector, Brexit is disastrous. Large amounts of university funding come from the EU and it seems highly unlikely that the money gap will be filled by the current UK government. On top of this, UK universities’ reputations as being some of the best in the world attract bright minds from around the globe. When we pull up the drawbridge we close doors not only on funding but also the very people who are likely to be making the next great research breakthroughs. Already Cancer Research UK has warned that Brexit could cause a significant delay in the development of new cancer treatments.
Slightly closer to home for me is the knowledge that large chunks of the UEA student population are made up of international students, from the EU and beyond – including many of my friends.
The current cohort of international students, whether they are EU citizens or not, are being made to feel unwelcome in the country that they have chosen to study in and make their home. Future students will have to contend with not only the xenophobia licensed by Brexit but also the likely rise in tuition fees and a new need for visas. Not being able to afford studying in the UK will be a disappointment for many EU students but it will be a greater disaster for Britain which could see a considerable brain drain as young academics either don’t come here or are drawn away by the promise of better funding opportunities abroad.
When a local business owned by a Romanian family was attacked by arsonists following the Brexit vote, Norwich locals raised £24,000 to help the family repair their shop. Norwich is a designated city of refuge with a proud history of welcoming foreigners and those fleeing conflict elsewhere (please see this previous post for more on Norwich’s radical/ pro-refugee history) – most recently, the Norfolk council voted to offer homes to 50 Syrian families.
UEA continues this proud history of welcoming people from around the world by creating the UEA United campaign;
“UEA welcomes students and staff from around the world. Whatever happens with Brexit our outlook remains global. EU and international students and staff will always be part of our family of nations. UEA is united.”
The staff and students wish all current and new international students to know that they are valued, they are welcome, and they are wanted.
At such a dark time in our country’s history it is a comfort to be a part of an institution which is unashamedly open and welcoming to all. We really are proud to ‘Do Different’.