LONDON • Britain's universities will tell Prime Minister David Cameron's government that leaving the European Union (EU) would hurt the economy and scientific research, as well as damage many graduates' job prospects.
A campaign representing 133 British universities was launched yesterday just after the country's Independent on Sunday newspaper claimed Mr Cameron plans to hold a referendum next June on continuing Britain's EU membership.
The Independent said university vice-chancellors, through their Universities UK association, insisted that membership of the 28-nation EU bloc has had an "overwhelmingly positive" impact on the standard of higher education.
The EU membership has also helped to cement the strong global reputation of Britain's universities, they said.
They will argue that 125,000 EU students at British universities generate more than £2.2 billion (S$4.7 billion) for the economy and create 19,000 jobs.
"This is not about academic tourism but about building networks and absorbing other languages and cultures. These are the insights needed for our students to become the global leaders of tomorrow."
DAME JULIA GOODFELLOW, Universities UK president-elect
Research funding from the EU is worth £1 billion a year, boosting the quality of research, benefiting the economy and helping British academics to tap into a continent-wide pool of knowledge, according to Universities UK.
They say the threat of a "Brexit" has united the higher education sector like few other issues.
The Independent said Universities UK president-elect, Dame Julia Goodfellow, vice-chancellor of the University of Kent, will raise doubts over the United Kingdom's continued participation in the Erasmus student exchange programme if Britain votes to leave the EU.
More than 200,000 students and 20,000 academics have taken part in the EU scheme since its launch in 1987.
"This is not about academic tourism but about building networks and absorbing other languages and cultures. These are the insights needed for our students to become the global leaders of tomorrow," the newspaper quoted Dame Julia as saying.
The universities' push to stay in the EU came as Britain's finance minister headed for Europe yesterday to push his government's case for a reform of how the EU operates.
Chancellor George Osborne was to meet his French counterpart Michel Sapin, and also Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.
Advance information from Mr Osborne's office said he would argue that Britain wants to play a "leading role within a reformed EU" and that Mr Cameron's Conservative Party has pledged to campaign in favour of staying in the EU.
The trip to Paris is the first in a series of visits Mr Osborne will make to various European capitals, British officials say.