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Russell Group Vice-Chancellors write to President Tusk ahead of the European Council meeting

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Queen’s University Belfast President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Patrick Johnston, and three other Russell Group Vice-Chancellors, representing the whole of the UK, have written to President Tusk. The letter has been sent ahead of the European Council meeting of the 27 EU leaders on Saturday, 29 April 2017.

In the letter they say “both UK and EU science will be stronger if we continue to work together”. They add their support to his intention to make reciprocal rights for EU and UK nationals a priority and urge him to work to continue existing ties and protect working relationships in order to ensure continued research collaboration.

The full text of the letter is below:

Dear President Tusk,

As Vice-Chancellors representing research-intensive universities in every nation of the UK, we write on behalf of the Russell Group of universities regarding the start of formal Brexit negotiations.

Russell Group universities are world leaders in science and research. In 2015, our members were responsible for nearly 20 per cent of the most highly cited research papers in the EU28.

Our message to you ahead of the European Council meeting is simple: both UK and EU science will be stronger if we continue to work together.

The UK has a lot to offer and we do not want our contribution to end when we leave the EU. We will continue working with our European partners as closely as possible.

The UK government has made clear it wants to maintain close collaboration on science and innovation. We would urge the Council to take a similar approach, building on a long history of strong and positive cooperation between the UK and the EU on science to ensure this can continue.

Russell Group universities have established around 7,000 collaborative links with partners in other EU member states through Horizon 2020 alone. We would encourage you to give full consideration to options that would allow UK higher education institutions to participate in future EU research and innovation framework programmes based on excellence.

We note your intention to make reciprocal guarantees for the rights of EU and UK citizens and their families one of the first items for discussion during talks. We fully support this approach and hope an agreement can be reached as soon as possible to give certainty to the millions of people who will be affected, including the 61,000 students and more than 24,000 employees of other EU nationalities at Russell Group universities.

Changes to the UK’s current relationship with the EU are inevitable. New barriers that would prevent the free flow of ideas and restrict international research collaboration are not. There are a number of ways we could maintain existing ties and protect working relationships after the UK leaves the EU and these should be explored fully, and as a priority, as negotiations progress. In Northern Ireland the land border with the Republic of Ireland is a unique and important issue. It is vital that freedom of movement across both jurisdictions continues unimpeded in order to sustain and enhance current north-south collaboration.

Any Brexit settlement which makes it more difficult for universities to work together across international borders would be harmful for all of us. We would encourage all parties to do everything they can to avoid such an outcome.

With kind regards,

Professor Sir David Greenaway, Vice Chancellor of the University of Nottingham and Chair of the Russell Group of Universities
Professor Patrick Johnston, President and Vice-Chancellor, Queen's University Belfast
Professor Anton Muscatelli, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, University of Glasgow
Professor Colin Riordan, Vice-Chancellor, Cardiff University