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Vice-Chancellor's March message: Brexit

It’s now nearly three years since I wrote these words in the days following the result of the UK’s referendum on European Union membership.

“As you know, I campaigned for a Remain vote and both UEA and Universities UK believed, and still do believe, that we are stronger within Europe. I believe the result is not only disappointing but also poses us some risks for the future. 

Firstly, and most importantly, we stand by our colleagues and students from the family of EU nations. You, and indeed all our international students and colleagues, are part of our family. You are all hugely valued and UEA remains a place where you will be welcome. I am pleased to say the city of Norwich also voted Remain.”

It is depressing to reflect on the intervening years and months and still find ourselves in a position that remains so very unclear. We could still leave the EU at 11pm on Friday 29 March without any deal. The lack of certainty and clarity is deeply frustrating and worrying for our staff and students, on both a practical and an emotional level.

A recent UK Government update, coming late in January, confirmed that for students on current placements they would continue to receive funding under the Erasmus+ program – but this leaves questions over the future of the program in the event of a no-deal.

For fellow academics and staff from the European Union the need to ‘claim’ settlement status is deeply offensive in itself. Our colleagues have worked side by side, teaching students and conducting world-leading research – and yet now they are having to claim the right to stay in the UK.

At UEA we stand united in our shared values of intellectual integrity, academic freedom and our belief that together we are stronger. We are proud to be one of the founding partners in the Aurora network of nine European universities and we will continue to co-operate and work on an international basis.

We stand united at UEA. Regardless of leaving the EU, the UK is a European country. UEA is a European university, and always will be, regardless of membership or non-membership of the EU.  We are a broad and diverse, international family and long may that be the case.

There are a lot of questions about Brexit and, regrettably, still too few answers. We will continue to do what we can to support Universities UK’s lobbying of the UK Government to get greater clarity for our students, researchers and staff. Please note we have updated information about Brexit on the Portal.

We also face uncertainty from the Augar Review of post-18 education which is expected to report its findings soon. The review could enable us to increase our degree apprenticeship courses or introduce more flexible programmes of study; due to our mix of subjects we are in a fairly resilient position. However, I remain concerned that some of the changes being talked about will impact unfairly on both access to higher education and the unit of resource for universities.

With the political and economic uncertainty it’s opportune that we start to plan for the next five years (2020 to 2025) towards our UEA 2030 Vision and Plan. We know we have to address key aspects in our People strategy, our values, and our offer for students so that we can continue to improve and ensure our status as a world-class research university dedicated to providing an innovative and collaborative teaching environment.

Please do look out for information our wellbeing services on University Mental Health Day – Thursday 7 March. We have made good progress at UEA in recent years but there is still much work to do to support both staff and students at UEA. To that end, I’m pleased to announce I will be working on a Universities UK taskforce with other Vice-Chancellors to look at best practice and institutional-wide responses to wellbeing and mental health needs in universities.  

Finally, I’m delighted to welcome Professor Mark Searcey as Pro Vice-Chancellor for Science, from 1 April, and I would like to thank Professor Phil Gilmartin for his hard work at UEA both as PVC for Science, his role on the Sustainability Board, and his work in raising UEA’s profile on the international stage.

Best wishes,