We are European Scholars
By far the worst aspect of Brexit inside the University is the awful hurt it is giving many of my colleagues. This hurt comes in many parts. The first is the shock and dismay at being labelled as nastily ‘other’. A second is the dark sense of insecurity that has enveloped them.
The effect on them is truly profound. I am inclined to think that some, perhaps many, will never be able to overcome the feeling of rejection and insult.
But I want to do more than just feel ashamed of my country.
I know that there are people in government – in particular the 15 per cent of the staff at BIS from other EU countries – who are desperate for there to be clarity on their future rights to work in the UK. Our Minister for Universities, a committed internationalist, is clearly aware of the dangers to our community of having to wait.
But every day this uncertainty that hangs above one's head is tough to get through. Every day the thoughts of leaving grow. Jo Johnson, or anyone who follows him, will have to fight damned hard to get the full rights our staff need to sleep soundly.
So what will he need to succeed? If we do not win, the loss will devastate our campuses and the work which is so precious to us and needed by the world.
It makes me sick to think of the wonderful scholarship across our University that is being threatened. The prospect of the loss of such teachers would be so awful for our future students who could be denied the prospect of learning from my EU colleagues.
I also know that there are members of staff who, in good faith, voted for us to leave the EU who are just as dismayed with the impact on some of their colleagues and the work we do. I know that none of us would knowingly cause this hurt or damage to our beloved community.
But let me tell you the deed has been done. This is no politically motivated exaggeration. I say it as your Vice-Chancellor, determined to do my best in preserving our University.
I will fight in the media and the corridors of power, but I need your help. So what can you do to bring some healing and fight for our colleagues’ rights?
We have had great success in promoting the importance of being truly international. Our #WeAreInternational campaign unites staff and students as well as institutions.
This week we hosted colleagues from across the UK committed to supporting international students at the annual conference of the UK Council for International Student Affairs. It was an opportunity to reboot these efforts and it was eagerly welcomed by staff from far beyond the 100 universities who had already backed our work. We have already been in touch with all other universities in the UK to unite around this work and have told them how they can join us.
So let's do the scholarly equivalent by showing that "We are European Scholars". Let’s make it abundantly clear how much we need to value the work, and presence, of an EU colleague.
This week I have had a wide range of meetings in London with the Higher Education Funding Council for England, with the Russell Group and national policy bodies, as well as with our government department. In each, the feeling of an urgent need to answer the questions about EU staff and collaboration which would shape our future has been tangible. And what I have seen is the need, not only to reel from shock, but to act.
The Minister has asked us to give him the evidence to make the most powerful case possible for our pan-European work. I believe this must be said not just in statistics, but in the united voices of those who know it best.
Would you help me by writing a paragraph on what an EU member of staff or student has done for the UK or the world? You could do it with a colleague or student if you like.
You see, if you are not being threatened by right-to-work issues you may have more energy than those who are living with uncertainty.
Even if you are a UK citizen, your EU funding may be threatened by us being outside the ERA.
You may have already found it harder to be part of a European collaboration, for example. We all need to show how important mobility of scholars is to us, and to the country.
Let's work with our European Scholars and demonstrate the impact they have on UK society in all its aspects. Joint work with EU colleagues counts. Work that came out of an EU collaboration counts. Teaching and service to our fellow citizens' health and future counts.
I am asking you to help us say what we know. Scholarship has no borders, never has and never will. Scholarship with borders is not scholarship. Tell us how this happens in the areas you know best.
We need a stock of stories to tell our politicians, and the people who will influence their decisions, our fellow citizens in Sheffield.
This might well be critical in any negotiations that are ahead. I want us to help our politicians to know – in technicolour – what would be lost if we are not part of the ERA.
I'll start the ball rolling by asking Research and Innovation Services to look at our Research Impact statements to begin part of this celebration. Our communications colleagues will amplify what we reveal.
You may have seen that I am putting time and effort into making this case crystal clear to the wider public. I am doing so in both the UK media as well as publications overseas, and I will keep this up.
But now I need your direct experience and specialist knowledge to help secure the next stage of answers needed for our colleagues, our students and our work. These will be collated as an undeniable chorus of the value we place on scholarship beyond borders, and will be an intellectual resource in winning the ground we need to sustain our work.
These are the most challenging times many of us have seen in higher education, not to mention our politics. There is change on every front and it is easy to be dismayed.
I am asking for more. I am asking for your support, for your help and your action. In our difficult hour, I want us to lead. We will not be alone.
Professor Sir Keith Burnett CBE FRS FRSW