Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

The End of a Political Union Must Not Mean a Separation of Scholars

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

The End of a Political Union Must Not Mean a Separation of Scholars

Article excerpt

After an undesired referendum result, what next? Keith Burnett urges the academic community to unite and remember its purpose

After a lifetime in which I have felt part of a European project born out of conflict and hopeful of peace and trade, the majority of UK voters have decided that they no longer have faith in the European Union.

These past few weeks have left me wondering what I should think of our country. I've been shocked at the opinions that some have been voicing. I have felt at times that I am not in the place where I grew up. Had I misunderstood what this land of my birth really is?

I have reflected on the fact that I have nearly always been a student or an academic, enjoying the blessings of communities of scholars in Colorado, London, Oxford and now in Sheffield.

But I have also worried that our oasis of intellectual and societal tolerance is threatened by the storm that swirls around us. Could we even suffer a "Stockholm syndrome" and start sharing the emotions that live and breathe around us? Could we lose the centre of our lives as scholars?

In a democracy, one person's vote counts no more and no less than that of another. Most of us would not have it any other way, even though we may sometimes feel that it does not keep us safe from error. But what next for all we treasure together in universities?

We who have made universities our life's work know that we cannot be completely independent of the world around us, and we don't want to be. Our scholarship and students rely on collaboration and draw on an ethos of education that owes so much to the Continent.

Yes, I am gutted that this is the decision that has been reached, and certainly not only for myself. I think of the great teachers and scholars from across the Continent who inspired me, but far more of the staff and students from other European countries who are with us now. I wonder what they must be feeling and think of what they have already said to me - practical questions about what this means for their daily lives, work opportunities and residency.

Academics engaged in projects with other EU universities drawing on EU funding wonder about the future of their work. What of Erasmus and other kinds of educational exchange? Brexit may have other consequences, too, on our economy or on the investment choices of our major commercial partners. It could mean further tightening of immigration rules. The answer to such questions will no doubt take a while to become clear. …

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