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The EU debate: It’s impact on universities

AS I am sure you are only too well aware, the EU referendum takes place on June 23rd. Like me, you will have heard lots of numbers which speak to the benefits of either remaining or going. Many of them are not just contested but also very large and difficult to relate to our everyday lives.

So, I thought it might be helpful to share some figures from one organisation, the one of which I am Chief Executive.

Nottingham Trent University teaches around 30,000 students ranging from 16 year olds studying for a diploma in agriculture to PhD students researching the role of museums in society. We employ around 3,500 staff and are directly responsible for another 3,500 or so jobs in local businesses. About 25 per cent of our students come from households with a total income £15,000 or less.

As a university, we pride ourselves on our independence. As a result, we are not supporting either side of the argument in the referendum.

Nonetheless, EU membership does have an impact on the university, both financially and in other ways. Of course, we do not know at present what sort of settlement would be put in place in the event of a Brexit. The Leave campaign are not in a position to make any firm commitments on how the resources that the UK currently commits to the EU may be re-allocated in a future where we are not members. Potentially, some might be re-directed towards higher education if the UK left the EU. However, we have neither an insight into how our current collaborators in Europe may respond to our departure nor a picture of the sort of governmental frameworks that might shape their decisions.

RESEARCH

Let’s start with research. Colleagues here at Nottingham Trent are forging collaborations with a diverse array of external partners across Europe in order to enhance access to EU research funds. As a result, since 2010, we have increased our EU research funding by 228 per cent; put another way, EU sources now represent 34 per cent of our research funding.

Take as an example the work of the John van Geest Cancer Research Centre, where we were the lead institution on a €4.3m cancer programme with 13 partners. This Centre has also benefited from European Regional Development Funds (ERDF) awards, the most recent being £250,000 received in support of research into diagnosis and therapy in prostate cancer.

We have also utilised ERDF over recent years to support engagement with small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) and to promote business innovation and growth in the regional economy. In the 2007-13 funding round, NTU received approximately £4.2m in ERDF grant. The first phase of our new 2015-2020 ERDF programme is about to start where we are a partner in two programmes: Enabling Innovation, to be delivered jointly with the Universities of Nottingham and Derby; and the Creative and Digital Industries Consortium for increased SME Competitiveness. These two projects will provide approximately £4m in grant funding to my University over the next three years.

TEACHING

Turning to teaching, non-UK EU undergraduate students are treated as ‘home’ students for tuition fee purposes and qualify for tuition loans from the Student Loans Company. Undergraduate EU enrolments at Nottingham Trent University have been growing in recent years and currently stand at approximately 700. They represent circa £6m in fee income to my university this year. There are also over 200 EU students enrolled here on postgraduate taught and research degrees at NTU; from this autumn new postgraduate taught students from within the EU would have access to postgraduate tuition loans. We assume this eligibility would end for EU students if we depart. Of course, given the inclusion of students in UK immigration numbers, it might be that visa access for international students from outside of the EU would become easier again if fewer EU students were coming to the UK. The other main implication for students of a vote to leave is the potential loss of access to what is known as Erasmus funding, This supports student mobility around the EU. In 2014/15, the University received over 750,000 from this Erasmus programme to support student and staff mobility to other EU countries.

Finally, and based on self-disclosure on appointment, over 100 of our academic colleagues within the University originate from the EU and are employed without any requirement for a visa.

I hope these figures are useful in giving an insight into how membership of the EU effects one UK organisation which is non-aligned in the debate. If they play even a small part in helping you make up your mind about whether we should stay or whether we should go, then they will have been worth sharing.

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