The EU referendum: where we stand

22 Jun 2016

Yesterday over 100 Vice-Chancellors signed a letter backing the campaign to remain in the European Union.

“For us it is crystal clear that our outstanding universities – and our students – are stronger in Europe,” they wrote. At MillionPlus we concur, but there is more at stake and the issue is bigger than higher education.

For the vast majority of the students in the UK, Britain in the EU will be all they have ever known and it is them for whom the referendum result will have the longest and most profound effect. There are around two million students in the UK, with survey after survey suggesting that they overwhelmingly back remain.

Two million students; two million careers; two million futures. This is a big call to get wrong.

Widely acknowledged as the most divisive political campaign that many can recall, the rancour and disharmony has the potential to leave a bitter taste and may take time to heal, whatever result the country wakes up to on Friday morning.

Arguably both camps are equally culpable of running Project Fear; fear of the economic consequences, fear for jobs and business, fear for democracy, fear of the Other. Alarmist rhetoric has been abundant on either side – played out on a tit-for-tat basis with claim and counter-claim – and so the waters of a question already unfathomably complex to the average voter have been muddied.

It has been argued that the referendum has not been about the EU at all but about the wider consequences of globalisation. It is a point of view with which we are inclined to concur and no-one should dismiss the real concerns of many who feel let-down and ignored.

After what feels like an interminably long campaign the polls remain too close to call. With the vote less than 24 hours away, what for months has been abstract is about to become real. Now is the time for cooler heads to prevail. The European Union is far from perfect; what union is? But it is preferable to going it alone in an increasingly complex and inter-connected world.

A step out of the European Union would be a step backwards not only for students and universities but also for the United Kingdom – equivalent to pulling up the drawbridge, turning our backs on Europe with no chance of going back. Better surely to roll up our sleeves and work towards a union perhaps with a changed focus, which more clearly addresses everyday concerns on the issues that define our times: the environment; gross inequality; and the most immense migration of people displaced by conflict since the Second World War.

These are complicated and challenging problems which require co-operative solutions. They are simply too big for the UK or France or Germany or any other European nation to solve alone.

For stronger universities, for the next generation of students but also for a future rooted in partnership and co-operation, MillionPlus is for Remain.