UEA United – Solidarity in the face of Brexit

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.

Norwich voted to Remain, something that UEA and its students are immensely proud of.

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 united

“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’.

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Brexit: A Disaster for Higher Education

Brexit – almost two months to go until the referendum but already the public are getting sick of the word, and rightly so. Neither side of the argument seems to have been able to tap into the public interest as of yet. For most of us it remains a distant but aggressive buzz, like a particularly annoying housefly.

However, when we take the time to stop and consider what is actually at stake it becomes clear that this is a historic vote.

The EU is the legacy of the terrible conflicts of the 20th century. It is a flawed, bureaucratic, administrative mess – but honestly, I believe that it’s the best that we can do.

We live in a world which is growing smaller by the day. Social media and better access to phone lines are bringing people across the world together like never before. It is now as easy to contact someone in Lisbon as it is London, and so it seem to me that attempts to distance ourselves from imperfect international communities are as reductive as Donald Trump’s suggestion that the answer to immigration problems is to build a wall.

Of course, I am coming at this referendum from the perspective of a student in Higher Education. Every day I meet and work with people from across the globe, from within the EU and beyond, and these people are an intrinsic part of what makes UK universities some of the best in the world. There are 125,000 EU students currently studying in the UK, and not only are they bringing important money into our HE sector but they are part of the vital networking groups that we need to help resolve the global problems we currently face.

Problems such as Global Warming and the clean energy crisis aren’t going to be resolved by a small handful of experts in one university, in one country – they can only be faced by a global co-ordinated effort. When we try to isolate ourselves from Europe we cut ourselves off not only from the EU market, but from the very people who can work with us to find solutions that benefit us all.

And it’s not just the people but the EU funding which is vital to our universities. Funding from Brussels is worth around £1bn a year. How can UK universities hope to continue generating world leading research when we turn our backs on the very organisations which make this possible?

I can’t hope to cover every aspect of the Brexit question in one short blog post. What you see here is merely a fragment from the tip of the iceberg. But what I do hope I can convey in some way, is that for all its flaws the EU is an opportunity to come together and work to solve the problems which affect us all. It’s not perfect, in fact it’s very problematic. But I truly believe that leaving will not solve any of our problems, but like the many headed Hydra, will only produce a dozen more.

But don’t just take my word for it. Whatever your opinion is, make sure it’s an informed one.