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President of Birkbeck calls for protection of scholarship and research in Brexit agreement

Baroness Joan Bakewell spoke in the House of Lords about the value of British universities and the threats they face through the Brexit process.

Baroness Joan Bakewell speaking at a Birkbeck graduation ceremony

In a rousing speech in the House of Lords yesterday, President of Birkbeck Baroness Joan Bakewell called for the protection of scholarship and research in the Brexit process, claiming that the academic freedom which has been honoured for centuries has been “set in reverse by the current shallow and ignorant government proposals for Brexit.”

The distinguished journalist and Labour peer made the remarks in a debate on the EU withdrawal agreement, praising the value that British universities hold for the economy and wider society, as well as their long history of European collaboration - something she says is now under threat.

She said: “Britain’s universities are world-renowned, internationally competitive and a major economic asset, generating £13.1 billion of export receipts and by their research and teaching contributing to the global world of cutting-edge discovery and scientific development… the prime terms of exiting the EU are threatening this centuries-won status.”

She also noted the manifold contributions made by EU citizens to universities and scholarly communities in the UK, which she says are being harmed by the Brexit process: “Restraints on the movements of students and scholars are already damaging the richness of our tradition. In the university of which I am President, Birkbeck, 18% of the staff is from the EU… their right to stay is now subject to checks. The recruitment of EU students domiciled in this country is falling. Why are we doing this to institutions that bring nothing but sound values and honorable achievements to this country?

“At the same time, we are pulling out of prestigious enterprises that bear illustrious European names: the Erasmus scheme, the Galileo project… why would we want to be outside them? No one voted to turn our backs on the long and prestigious bedrock of our intellectual history. We should reject such proposals and salvage our proud reputation for scholarship and research.”

Her concerns were echoed by Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Jenny Randerson, who is the Pro-Chancellor of Cardiff University. She said: “Some months ago, the idea of the UK no longer being part of [the Galileo] project seemed pretty absurd, but last week, the Government confirmed that we will withdraw from the project and develop our own system. That is possibly the most hare-brained idea so far. It would mean years of work and billions of pounds being abandoned, only to be replaced by a system that we can have little hope of developing for a decade and at massive cost.”

Birkbeck is globally recognised for the strength of its international outlook based on overseas staff, students and research collaborations. The College announced last year that it was committed to maintaining fees for postgraduate students from the European Union at the same level as those for UK home students, with Master of the College Professor David Latchman praising the “diversity our international students bring to the College [which] enriches the learning experience.”

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