Having our voice heard in the Brexit debate

January is always a time for thinking ahead and making plans, and 2019 is no exception. We are entering a year of major political uncertainty, and we will need to plan even more carefully than usual so that we are prepared for any of the possible outcomes.

Following the defeat of the Government’s proposed Brexit deal, I want to assure you that our priority continues to be supporting our EU staff, their families, and EU students as much as we can.

Prior to Christmas I signed a letter to MPs along with other university leaders, warning of the likely damage to universities if the UK leaves the EU on 29 March with no deal agreed.

During the first week of the year the new Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, Chris Skidmore MP, visited us. Mr Skidmore knows Bristol well – he is a historian who has spent some time teaching here and lives in the region. As well as demonstrating the impact of our world-leading research and education, we also took the opportunity to raise our concerns directly with him about Brexit.

As the political debate continues to rage on over the coming days and weeks we will ensure our voice is heard to strive for the best possible outcome for higher education in the UK.
Whilst the UK’s relationship with the EU is clouded in uncertainty I want to make one thing very clear to our EU staff and students: you are an important part of our community and we want you to stay with us at the University of Bristol.

One piece of good news in the last 24 hours is the Government’s announcement it has scrapped charging EU citizens to apply for its EU Settlement Scheme. The University had previously said we would cover this cost for all staff and students employed here.

In terms of running our day-to-day business I would also like to reassure you that we have been planning for the various Brexit scenarios and that we continue to take steps to ensure we retain strong links with European universities for research and teaching. Our education and research reflect the expertise and knowledge of our European colleagues. We embrace our collaborations with our European partners; that will not change.

I appreciate these are small gestures and may do little to compensate for the stress and uncertainty our European staff and students are feeling during these uncertain times. The UK may not feel like a welcoming place for many EU colleagues and students now, but we will do all we can at the University to provide the collegial, supportive environment you deserve. As we navigate the coming weeks and months together, we must ensure that future generations of staff and students recognise the value of our truly international university and the outstanding contributions of our EU staff.