Embracing our Future – the Principal on Brexit

Wednesday 29 March 2017

Dear Colleagues and Students

‌Last year I wrote to you on the morning following the referendum to acknowledge the fundamental changes that Brexit would bring to the political landscape of Scotland, the United Kingdom, and Europe, and to outline some of the actions the University would be taking in immediate response.

I highlighted the value of the free movement of scholars and scholarship, the importance of working across national boundaries to advance knowledge, and our strong position as a Scottish university with a global reputation and six centuries of experience on which to call.

Today, the Prime Minister will take the first formal steps on the UK’s journey out of the European Union.

Mrs May’s letter to Donald Tusk is only the start of a long negotiation during which fundamental questions about our ongoing relationship with the EU will be considered, from the rights of our EU members of staff and our students to our access to the EU research community.

As a Scottish university St Andrews is also materially affected by the decision of the Scottish Government to call for a second independence referendum, endorsed yesterday in the Scottish Parliament. This opens up a further layer of complexity, from the constitutional arrangements and timing of any vote to its influence on Scotland’s membership of and future relations with the EU.

Everybody at St Andrews will have a view individually on where they think we should be positioned in these debates. But there is also much still to be clarified on some essential matters within both the Brexit negotiations and the independence discussions. How the UK and Scottish Governments handle questions around present and future staff and student mobility and access to European and UK research funding are crucial to the future identity, well-being, and sustainability of our University. How these issues play out over the next two years will define where many of us stand.

We can all influence these debates, and I intend for St Andrews to continue playing a full part in this. I have been busy in my own right as have many others from our University, in making the voices of St Andrews students and staff heard at the highest levels of government, both at Westminster and Holyrood. Against that background, I welcome the Deputy First Minister’s announcement last week that EU students commencing their studies in Scotland from 2018 will continue to have their tuition fees paid by the Scottish Government for the duration of their courses.

I know from the visits I have been making to Schools and Units across the University, and from the forums that I have run for staff and students, that many of you have strong views on Brexit and its consequences, and that many of you, as staff and students from our highly international body, have practical and personal concerns. Please continue to share these with us and we will seek to help you resolve them. To this end, the next Principal’s Open Forum will take place on 4 May in Physics Lecture Theatre A at 1 pm. The Forum will focus on any matters members of the University wish to raise, including Brexit related ones. Please do attend if you can.

Our Human Resources department is arranging a series of drop-in sessions across the University for EEA colleagues who may wish to consider applying for UK residency or British citizenship. I have also asked that we explore the opportunity to provide subsidised expert legal advice from Scottish solicitors’ firms with particular expertise in these matters, should there be demand from colleagues for this type of service. We will be strengthening the practical advice that we offer you through our webpages and I have asked that we put in place arrangements to cover the cost of application for permanent residence or an EEA registration certificate. This will also apply retrospectively to any member of staff who has applied for residence since 23 June last year.

St Andrews is, and will remain, a highly connected global university. We shall continue to welcome staff members and students from all countries of the world, and explicitly to affirm how much we value the wonderful international outlook that you bring to this small town in Scotland. We are taking practical steps to strengthen our academic networks, in Europe and across the world. We have recently become members of the Europaeum, a network of research-focused European universities, and the Talloires Network, a global body of universities with a focus on civic engagement.

These are turbulent political times in Scotland and in the UK. But great universities will always survive turbulence and disruption. Indeed it is in those times that we show our worth and the value of the spirit of enquiry and collaboration for which we stand. In the months ahead, people will increasingly look to us for rational argument and analysis, to separate fact from dogma and to be a trusted independent voice in evaluating the changes that are coming. I know that we will rise to that challenge, and I give you all my word that I will take forward our University’s interests to the utmost, sustained by our belief in excellence, and the strong sense of openness and collegiality right across our academic, student, and professional community.

Professor Sally Mapstone

Principal and Vice-Chancellor

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