A senior Swiss academic has called on United Kingdom vice-chancellors "to get out on the streets" and convince young British voters of the value of continued membership of the European Union, or EU.
Speaking at the first in a series of debates organised by the vice-chancellors’ body, Universities UK, in the run-up to the British referendum on EU membership on 23 June, Professor Philippe Moreillon, vice-rector of research and international relations at University of Lausanne, Switzerland, said Swiss higher education and research suffered following its referendum which narrowly supported restrictions on free movement of people from other EU countries.
Moreillon said Swiss universities found themselves "kicked out" of EU collaborative partnerships such as Erasmus and the incoming Horizon 2020 research programme in 2014.
Speaking to University World News, Moreillon said: "We did a bad job in Switzerland. Our rectors made several announcements in the press, but we didn't get out on the streets and convince young people to vote.
"The lack of young people voting led to the very narrow shock defeat in the referendum and the loss of our associate membership of the EU."
Moreillon urged UK vice-chancellors to mount a vigorous campaign emphasising the positives of staying in the EU rather than relying on negative messages about the loss of research money from a British EU exit.
"Get people to think what would they gain in being outside the EU. They might get independence, but we are in a global market with big players like the US, Europe and China.
"It is better being at the table."
Moreillon said the argument should be about more than what is good for universities.
"To appeal to young people it should focus on issues like peace and society."
He said Swiss rectors were encouraged by Swiss voters rejecting a plan to expel foreigners guilty of minor crimes in a referendum last week and looked forward to another vote on freedom of movement with EU nations, with the hope that the ban can be lifted and relations with the EU fully restored.
Also addressing the meeting, held on 29 February, was Professor Ashraf Hatem, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Universities, Egypt. He said: "The EU represents a dream for us in the way different countries have come together to do some good. We couldn't manage to do the same on a pan-Arab basis despite having similar cultures, identities and language."
Dr Attracta Halpin, registrar of the National University of Ireland, said she was worried about the loss of collaborative research with the UK, and Northern Ireland in particular, if there was a British EU exit.
"Our research has grown enormously with the EU Framework Seven programme and 70% of the funding has been drawn down through projects with UK partners.
"Europe has provided the framework for big projects, such as tackling Alzheimer's. If the UK withdraws from the EU it would have a very serious impact on us and for north-south university relations in Ireland, which have developed as part of the peace process."
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