EU Ref: VC discusses why EU membership matters


Vice-Chancellor, Professor Janet Beer, is a board member of the Britain Stronger in Europe campaign; she explains here why this debate is so crucial to UK universities.

“Throughout the EU referendum campaign I hope universities will be places for rich discussion to enable an informed and beneficial national debate to take place before the country heads to the polls.

There are many aspects to this debate – prosperity; jobs; competitiveness; security; the environment; people mobility; goods; services; and ideas. I cannot discuss them all in this blog post, but my overall position is that the UK has benefited from EU membership and that leaving would bring our country greater costs and risks.

The debate so far has been mainly focused on the overall national cost and benefits of EU membership, which is important, but the real impact and implications of that membership are local. The issues involved affect different places, people and organisations in a variety of ways and we have to understand what they mean for these distinct areas. 

International endeavour

Europe matters to this University and this city region in particular and unique ways.  Across the sector, as major employers and intellectual stakeholders, universities have both the right and a responsibility to be a voice in this crucial debate.

The UK’s membership of the EU is crucial to the success of our universities. It makes our outstanding universities even stronger – which in turn benefits the British people. It enhances university research and teaching, contributing to economic growth, employable graduates and cutting-edge discoveries.

The EU supports us to educate our future workforce, pursue ground-breaking research, generate new knowledge, understanding and cultural benefit, and drive innovation. Research is an international endeavour and does not respect national boundaries. Often the very best research is done by the best minds collaborating in teams working across borders.

World stage

Some may argue that the UK doesn’t need the EU’s help to collaborate, that we can still enjoy the same benefits from EU research programmes outside the EU. There is simply no evidence for this and it fundamentally misses a number of key points. Outside the EU, our research would be less connected, more fragmented and arguably less relevant on the world stage. More than 75% of the UK’s internationally co-authored papers are written with partners from other EU countries.

So what would happen if we leave? We have no idea whether, and on what terms, the UK could negotiate access to EU research programmes outside the EU. A major European power leaving the EU is unprecedented. Even if we could negotiate some access, we would move from playing a leadership role in European science and research to picking up scraps from the side-lines.

Liverpool has benefited enormously from being part of the EU. Half of our research outputs are a result of collaboration with other countries. The EU is a crucial funder for research and innovation – it now contributes to 13% of the University’s total research income, resulting in £49 million in grant funding between 2007 and 2013.

Global challenges

This funding enables the University to work on incredibly important global challenges, such as obesity, cancer, and biomedical research. The £6 million SATIN project, for example, aims to reduce obesity and involves 18 academic and industrial partners from nine European countries. Other colleagues are using EU funding to develop a highly sensitive, inexpensive way of detecting biomarkers that indicate an increased genetic risk of lung cancer.

EU money is supporting the Liverpool BioInnovation Hub which will provide a national biobank, genomics and shared facilities for use by major industry partners and SMEs.

These projects benefit from both scale and specialisation. They allow us to work with the best in Europe and to pool our intellectual resources even though we work in many different institutions and countries

Our students and our research benefit from freedom of movement across the EU to work and study. Universities can access top talent from across Europe and British students benefit from being taught by the best minds from across the region.


More than 10% of academic staff at UK universities are from other EU countries and here at the University of Liverpool 30% of our academic staff come from European countries outside the UK. Over 125,000 EU students are currently studying at UK universities and thesestudents help to foster an outward-looking culture on campus – in turn this provides British students with an international university experience, preparing them for an ever more globalised world. For example under the European Erasmus scheme – almost 500 Liverpool students have taken the opportunity to study in Europe in the last three years.

Clearly Europe now faces some big economic, ideological and institutional challenges. But we must engage with, not ignore Europe. Those challenges will affect us anyway regardless of the referendum outcome.

I believe universities and city regions in general must remain connected to their wider economic, institutional, intellectual and cultural tradition. My own University and the Liverpool city region have a common interest in this.

That is why I passionately advocate staying in – so that we can influence and improve the European Union from where we belong, at the heart of Europe.

One thought on “EU Ref: VC discusses why EU membership matters

  1. Tom Shenton

    We have no problem researching with non-EU academics or industrialists, why would we suddenly find barriers to working with the EU. What the ‘Remainers’ seem to forget here (as with many other issues) is that it will be just as much in the EU’s interest to collaborate with the UK as it will be for us. If we go for BREXIT we will be free to allow entry to EU researchers or whoever else we deem beneficial for the UK. As regards EU funding, anybody who has worked at the coal face of EU projects will have witnessed first hand the over burdening bureaucracy that is the EU’s hallmark. Something that those in the higher administrative strata seem to be indifferent too.

    In any case there are much bigger issues for the country than that the short term considerations of peripheral University funding. Considering this I think that the Vice Chancellor’s comments are inappropriate. I recommend the Vice Chancellor studies the wider issues commented upon by our previous Chancellor Lord Owen which have lead him to favour a BREXIT.

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