At the end of October 2015 with speculation on the Prime Minister’s deal in Europe beginning to increase, the All-Party Parliamentary University Group met to discuss the then proposed European Referendum, looking specifically at how the higher education sector could be affected by the deal and a potential ‘Brexit’.
The discussion focused around arguments both in favour of remaining and of leaving the EU, when the sector should join the debate and there were comparisons made of the historic 1975 referendum and the more recent Scottish referendum.
Attendees at the meeting warned about the RAB cost to the UK from EU students who did not pay back their student loans. And others responded to this by quoting a recent study which had shown that UK graduates living overseas were more likely to be non-payers (being lost to the system) than EU students who return home after studying here.
Others noted that what had been missing in the wider debate so far, but also including within higher education, was that the referendum would be decided on emotional narrative and not by facts and figures. It was suggested that those people regarded as opinion formers should engage their workforce and disseminate their message to the broadest group of people. Attendees noted that the swing in the 1975 referendum was the success in setting out a bigger picture rather than arguing over complicated details.
It was felt that universities should think about their communities, inspire debate and provide information to their students and staff. Universities should ensure students are registered to vote and make the importance clear to those who may never have voted before. There were many calls for nonpartisan information to be easily available for the public.
Following the meeting and with the date of the referendum now set for 23 June 2016, the officers of the group felt that it would be useful to set out a remain and a leave argument in the form of short essays. They wished to present these to all members of the University APPG and to the wider interest public in order to help inform the debate.
These essays are written by Bernard Jenkin MP and Professor Dame Julia Goodfellow