This is a transcript of the session that took place on 21 July, 2016 in the Sheldonian Theatre.
THE VICE-CHANCELLOR: Sorry for the slightly late start, we wanted to give the people who were queueing up outside a chance to come in before we started. Thank you all very much for coming. I have to say I am completely taken aback by the scale of the response and I think it speaks to the depth of the concern we all feel about the recent referendum.
I am not going to have very many answers for you today. I will certainly do my best to answer any questions you have, but as you know there is a great deal of uncertainty still. I do want to reassure you that my colleagues and I are doing everything we can to lobby both individually, through the Russell Group, through UUK and through every mechanism we have to try and ensure that the interests of the University and everyone who studies and works here is protected during this time.
I do want to offer some reassurance though. I genuinely don't think this is as bad as many of us feel it is. I think some of us are having an emotional reaction to the sense that a place we felt was home somehow was less welcoming to us, and I speak as an EU citizen and as a parent of EU citizens living and working in this country. So I think we are going to have to have patience.
But in advance of this meeting, we have solicited a number of pre-submitted questions. I am happy to ignore all of those and just answer questions from the floor but, as you have just heard, we have the constraint imposed by health and safety that we are not allowed to take microphones upstairs - I am not quite sure what they think you will do with them, but in any event we have to abide by the rules.
I will tell you what the broad outlines of the submitted questions were and if there is a lull and there are no questions, I will revert to them. There are a large number on the support for residency and citizenship for our staff, communications and staff engagement, on our EU students, on research and research funding, on pensions, on lobbying, on fundraising, on advantages and opportunities provided by Brexit. So those are the rough categories of the overall questions submitted in advance.
Very briefly, I do think this vote - and many of us didn't expect this outcome, didn't want this outcome, no doubt some people - evidently 52 per cent of the population - did. I think it is going to hit us in four different ways. The first is a decline in the overall economy of the country, notwithstanding the press reports today that the doom and gloom forecast before the vote was exaggerated. It seems to me over the short term this will be a major hit for the economy. The forecasts for GDP growth have been reduced dramatically, and so on, and that will have a knock-on effect on this institution and on us as individuals.
Second, there is the 15 percent of our students who are EU citizens and what their status will be after this initial period. The third impact is going to be on our research funding. As many of you know, 12 percent of our research funding comes from the EU, and how are we going to be able to ensure where the funding that enables our research - which is what makes this such an exciting place and keeps us globally competitive - is going to come from.
Finally, and the point I assume is on most of your minds, is the impact it is going to have on the 17 percent of our staff who are from the EU. I would certainly welcome in the course of this meeting, and subsequently, any suggestions you have of things we could and should be doing. I should say, we are also going to ensure that you all stay informed. We are going to set up an email list that you can sign on to so that we will keep you informed of any updates on developments nationally on this subject.
Finally I would just say that, in the last 24 hours, we have been deluged with questions and I haven't had a chance to look at them yet. I will do so over the weekend. Any that have not been answered, have not already been covered by what is raised during this session, I will ensure it gets a response.
With that, let me open it up. But to kick it off, I just thought, because some of you may be shy about asking a question, I would ask one of the people who had submitted a question in advance, Dr Axel Kuhn, who is an Associate Professor and Reader in Physics, to ask the first question.
DR KUHN: Vice-Chancellor, my question is of course of concern to a lot of the European staff. It is, how is the University going to make sure that its European staff will maintain their leave to remain or get British citizenship at the end of the two-year grace period when Brexit comes into place?
THE VICE-CHANCELLOR: Thank you for that. I expect it is on many people's minds. I don't see it as a two-year grace period because we don't know when the two years is going to begin. This is one of these areas on which there is an enormous amount of uncertainty and we are pressing the Government for clarity.
One thing we could do, which we are not prepared to do at this stage, is simply say we will pay for every member of the staff and their dependents to get a British passport, assuming they are eligible. The cost of that is £1,200 per person, and it requires residency, I believe, for six years. Indefinite leave to remain requires residency for five years and is much less expensive.
It may come to a point where the University decides we would pay for this, but at this point we are not prepared to commit to that because we honestly do not think it is going to be necessary. Everything we hear from people in government is that EU residents currently in the country will be allowed to remain. As you know, Theresa May has not committed to that. We have been assured the reason she has not publicly committed to that is because she wants to secure the rights of the 2 million Brits who are living in the EU. So it would be a major financial commitment for the University to underwrite this cost for everyone. I know it would be a major financial hit individually for people too. I think, in fairness, we couldn't do this for our EU citizens without doing it for all international citizens and at this point we just don't think it is necessary.
This is not a "never" decision, but we are completely convinced by the Government's assurances that those who are currently resident here will be permitted to remain, and I say this as a parent of two kids living and working here on EU passports. I have done nothing, or encouraged them to do anything, to change their status because I am completely convinced they will be able to remain. The issue is going to be at what point the Government will not honour that. The Prime Minister has said she will not give a date because she is concerned about a surge of migrants getting in before that date, but I appreciate that this is a source of enormous concern to people. If any of you have looked at the process for getting citizenship or indefinite leave to remain, it is a complicated process - it is easily doable but it is a tedious process.
The other thing we have done is to arrange a series of meetings. We have retained an immigration solicitor called Philip Turpin of Turpin & Miller and he is going to lead a number of sessions for staff in September. We have one in the Maths Institute September 5th, in the Department of Chemistry September 20th, another one in the Mathematical Institute on the 23rd and another on October 14th. I understand the colleges are also going to fund a separate one for people who cannot attend. We will make a recording and produce an FAQ for people who are not there.
The staff immigration team will have been trained to help people. I am told that immigration advice is a regulated activity so we cannot actually provide immigration advice, but we can provide generic advice. So that is where we are on that at the moment.
Another question? Yes.
QUESTION FROM THE FLOOR: Sorry, on that question, is there going to be an office that will help people that actually want to do the process on their own. Like will they be able to look at the paperwork before it is sent?
THE VICE-CHANCELLOR: Yes. Our immigration team will be happy to help with information and support. I have gone through the forms myself and they are tedious but they are not complicated. Well, you have to be able to list every time you were outside the country for the past five, which, depending on how often you were outside the country, can be very complicated indeed.
PROFESSOR DENIS NOBLE: Vice-Chancellor, I would like to ask a question which connects with experience that we have had here in Oxford around 30 years ago, when there were also very serious threats to research, education and funding, which was when I think, to Oxford's great credit, we launched a campaign, which is still in existence, actually - the Campaign for Science and Engineering - but that is not my real question. The real question is how quickly we can manage to bring together the resources that are here in Oxford with connections, and sometimes very powerful connections. I have tried to act as quickly as possible. I have a letter in the Daily Telegraph today, in fact, inviting Boris Johnson to give reassurance, if at all possible, to those particularly who rely on international collaboration.
I think the point I would want you to respond to is this: I don't think it is just a matter of funding. Of course there is a huge amount of funding that has come from the European Union that has supported us to the tune of £2 billion or £3 billion over the last two or three years, but it is not just that. It is also that that is precisely what enables us to attract the international collaboration from the United States, from Japan, from France, all over the world, and that is the threat as I see it. What I am doing therefore is both asking you a question, do you accept that many of us here could help on this because we have the connections - I actually interviewed Boris Johnson just two or three years ago on some questions that are to do with this - and would you agree this is not just a matter of funding, this is a matter of status and reputation as well?
THE VICE-CHANCELLOR: Thank you, and I read your piece in this morning's Telegraph. To be honest the part of this whole thing that worries me most is precisely the research funding, and not just, as you say, the funding but how that will influence our ability to recruit the best academics if they are concerned that their research won't be funded. I worry that we will lose academics who are concerned about the security of their funding, and I think we need to mobilise every source that we can to ensure that we don't lose this funding. So we are taking a two track approach. One - again with our colleagues in the Russell Group - lobbying Government. We have set up a European group - and the University is represented on that by Professor Ian Walmsley - to work with the Cabinet Office’s European group to ensure that funding is secured. Universities, as you know, as a group are more than willing to pay the price of free mobility of persons for access to the single market, but it is unclear that the Government or population of Britain would be willing to do that.
Given that, the second track we have to take, and here I think you know we didn't want to be in this situation but we have to take a positive approach to it. And I do think, if we act cleverly and mobilise the resources we have, we can position ourselves well. If you look at other sectors of the economy, the financial services are going to take a major hit, heavy manufacturing is also taking a major hit, agriculture is taking a major hit. What is a new Britain going to rely on to drive the economy? I think we can make a case that science and innovation is what will drive the economy in the future. Therefore we need this post-EU Government, if indeed there ever is a post-EU government, to invest heavily in science and innovation, which will necessarily bring funding here. So I think we will be more effective and it will be more fun to engage in a positive story, as well as just trying to minimise the damage, which I think has been, quite understandably, our initial reaction. So we are going to try and proceed on damage limitation on the one hand and then a very positive approach on the other. Let's use this as an opportunity to invest in science and innovation in this country.
QUESTION FROM THE FLOOR: Will there be any member of UUK or any vice chancellor present as a member of the team doing Brexit negotiations to make our views heard and to feed back, or are we contacting the team doing Brexit through other channels? How are we going to be represented in the team whilst the negotiations are being done?
THE VICE-CHANCELLOR: As I say, through the Russell Group. The Russell Group has appointed a European group, led by the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge, and on which we are represented by Ian Walmsley, and they will be dealing directly with the Cabinet group negotiating Brexit. So that is how. It is not as an individual institution but as a group, but we are individually represented in that group.
RESPONSE FROM QUESTIONER: In the group? In the team doing the negotiations?
THE VICE-CHANCELLOR: No, we are not part of the Government team doing the negotiation. We are negotiating with the Government. We are trying to influence and support the team doing the negotiations.
RESPONSE FROM QUESTIONER: Can you get somebody to be a part of the negotiating team?
THE VICE-CHANCELLOR: If anybody wants to resign and join the Civil Service, I think the Civil Service is going to have a lot of job openings, but officially, as a university, no, because that is not our job.
QUESTION FROM THE FLOOR: Thank you for having this Q&A session today, which I found very reassuring. My name is Chris Timmel. I am a Fellow of New College and a chemist, obviously in the Chemistry Department. I have found the written communication that we have received so far quite non-committal, actually. It has said very little apart from that the University is trying to achieve continued EU funding. In terms of written word or obvious actions, both internally in the University or publicly, we have seen relatively little and it has been very little detailed or in fact reassuring. I was wondering in which way the University could commit to saying all those really very reassuring words that you said here today in writing and, as was suggested earlier, possibly also in public. I think a lot of us would very, very much appreciate that.
THE VICE-CHANCELLOR: Okay. We are very happy to do that. We have a stenographer making a record of this gathering and we will make that available. I was talking to the Chancellor yesterday and told him that we were having this gathering and he said, well when you have a report of it, send it to the Prime Minister and the various ministers. I have no confidence they will read it but I am more than happy to do that too. I appreciate your concern about the lack of specificity but that is, in a sense, the dilemma in which we find ourselves.
I have just said at this point we are not prepared to do what I know many of you would like us to do and assume the costs of either everybody eligible getting either a British passport or indefinite leave to remain. We are trying to provide certainty where we have it, but we are operating in a very uncertain environment and the last thing we want to do is give out any false information or anything that is going to be proven wrong shortly.
We have this, again, on student fees. We now have EU students - they will be applying to come here starting September 1st. So we have said, by September 1st, you will know what your fees here will be for the entire duration of your period of study. We have already told all current EU students and all EU students starting in September that we will pay home fees. Frankly, I anticipate we will be able to say that for following year students too, but after that, probably not. But there we are going to have to wait for clarity from the Government.
Going back to your point about mobilising resources, if it turns out that for those starting, say, two years from now, we will not be able to charge them home fees, that is a time when we start mobilising Development to try and close the gap between home and international fees, but we are hamstrung by a lack of certainty everywhere, but happy to provide any and all information that we have.
If there is not a hand, I will go to a next submitted question, if that is okay with you? I have actually just answered the one on students.
There were actually a couple of questions on pensions. "If we leave the country where our contract is terminated, what will happen with our contributions to the pension scheme?” And “What are the options that we have to transfer the funds to a pension scheme within the EU? Would EU citizens be able to receive retirement money in their country of origin?"
I did ask our pensions expert the answer to that question, because I didn't know it, and he was quite reassuring on that front. Assuming that the HMRC recognizes your – if you move to another country, you can move your pension with you, provided that it is moving it into a legitimate...I should probably, so I don't get myself into trouble, read the exact answer:
"Benefits remain in the scheme until retirement age, but whilst they remain in the scheme, they are linked to the consumer price index so will increase in value. However, members do have an option to transfer anywhere overseas but the receiving scheme must be approved by HMRC, and a list is available on the HMRC website, which is listed on the University's EU Referendum website."
On the second question: "Yes, members have two choices. Payments can be paid directly to their UK bank account and they can transfer the money to an overseas account when they wish; or, alternatively, payments can be made directly to overseas accounts via Citibank, but USS charge £1 a month for this service."
Does anyone else want to ask a question?
QUESTION FROM THE FLOOR: Genevieve Adams, lecturer in French. What you have just said is for people who are not retired or not about to retire. Have you got any information about, say, people who are on the point of retiring? Will any future British Government go on honouring payment of pensions?
THE VICE-CHANCELLOR: I have no idea but, let me see, I know we have somebody, a pensions expert, here. Hello.
ALAN CUNNINGHAM, PENSIONS OFFICE: With regard to the occupational funds, they are protected and they will be paid. There is no change to the current situation. The only thing which is going to be under discussion in the future is with regards to state credits and how that will affect people going forward. So we don't know the answer to that one yet because it is too early, but your occupational fund is protected, is safe and is transferable, subject to HMRC - and it will continue to be paid.
THE VICE-CHANCELLOR: Any other questions? Yes, please.
QUESTION FROM THE FLOOR: My name is Daphne Cunningham and I am an administrator within the Engineering Science Department. Those of us who are not native born UK members, or even citizens of the UK, really felt the hit of the Leave vote. So I was wondering, are there any plans for the University to step up its promotion of Oxford as a place that welcomes and values diversity? We like to work for a place that says "We really want you here" and we want to hear it. Thank you.
THE VICE-CHANCELLOR: Thank you. I absolutely welcome that suggestion and welcome any ideas on how you think we can say that in an effective way. We can post a statement on our website - that seems a little passive. I think I can honestly speak with great confidence in saying this is an institution that values our EU and indeed all our international students and staff and indeed believes that part of our strength lies in our diversity and that that diversity contributes to our strength. We absolutely believe that.
Do you have a suggestion on what would be a particularly effective way of making that message clear to people?
RESPONSE FROM QUESTIONER: Some of it is in what is on your website, some of it is who is going to negotiate – is it, you know, the same suspects as always or do you bring a diversity of people there to show, every time you go before the Government or in public, you know, that you have Europeans and other people with you and, as for myself, it is kind of like saying on the website and having it mentioned. Maybe other people have other ideas, but it is speaking to us again and saying, "Yes, you are welcome". When I look at your website, I want to see different kinds of people and different kinds of stories. 5
THE VICE-CHANCELLOR: Thank you. We are going to send out an email address after this meeting, so anybody who has got tangible ideas of the things they think we should be doing that come to you later, we would absolutely welcome.
That question prompts me to raise something I meant to raise and didn't at the beginning, which is that we have all heard, I think, some very disturbing stories about incidences of staff, students or indeed children of staff have been told - I suppose racially abused is the only term that really can be used to describe this - ghastly incidents. If you personally or anybody you know has had an experience like this, we would like you to be in touch with us and tell us. I had one member of staff and a student get in touch with me. Again, we want to figure out a way as to how do we really, as effectively as possible, totally repudiate this activity which is antithetical to the type of institution that we are.
I think we are finding ourselves in this position where the country appears to be turning inward and we, as an institution, have always looked outward - it is part of our strength and part of who we are. We have a new director of public affairs starting in early September and I hope to rely heavily on him to help project or to make the case publicly as effectively as we possibly can.
QUESTION FROM THE FLOOR: I would like to follow up on that question. We have talked about, for very important and understandable reasons, issues to do with money and to do with staff and so on, also to do with science and technology. I would like to ask us think about culture. The issues of culture, obviously, include things like the fact that we also want to send our students to other countries, and the issues to do with Erasmus and so on. But in terms of sending out a positive message to British society as a whole, I would like to suggest that we consider very seriously following the example of University College London and requiring that every student who applies to this University should have a GCSE in a modern foreign language and, if they don't have a GCSE in a modern foreign language, we require them to take a certificate in a modern foreign language while they are here. That seems to me an opportunity to make a very strong statement about our engagement with the outside world, our enthusiasm for diversity and our abhorrence of any racially motivated situations.
THE VICE-CHANCELLOR: Thank you for that suggestion, with which I am completely sympathetic. As you probably know, we don't currently have a PVC Education – Sally has just left. Emma - what is our position on languages and GCSEs?
EMMA POTTS, ACADEMIC REGISTRAR: I think the main challenge here is the fact that, if we are to diversify our student body more broadly, there are a lot of students from more disadvantaged backgrounds that don't necessarily do GCSE languages. So I think that is, really, one of the biggest challenges. So there is not a requirement at the moment. The question about whether, once students get here, they might do a course of course is something else that should be considered and could be taken to the appropriate discussions with divisions in terms of the content of students' programmes here, but I think to introduce something compulsory before they arrive would actually be, in some ways, counterproductive to certain students who are not from the backgrounds where they might have those opportunities.
THE VICE-CHANCELLOR: I think it would actually be worth looking at the data and seeing if we could find out if your hunch is correct, or how many people it would disadvantage, because, I agree, it is a very powerful statement - I think any educated person should speak other languages. There is simply nothing like it in terms of engendering empathy and engendering cultural understanding. So I am personally very sympathetic. Whether we can do it or not, I am honestly not sure, but we will look at the data and see if it would disadvantage the very kinds of people we are trying to attract.
COMMENT FROM THE FLOOR: Orla White, Oxford University Student Union. Just on that note, in terms of potentially disadvantaging students who may not have had the opportunity or not have been in an environment where doing a GCSE in a modern language was like something they felt able to do, that is relevant but also in terms of Oxford's image as an inclusive and open and outward-looking university that wants to bring students in from all kinds of different backgrounds, again another requirement of that kind would potentially be damaging in that way as well, although I do agree with you that, absolutely, learning modern languages is an essential part of
THE VICE-CHANCELLOR: We will explore it and see.
QUESTION FROM THE FLOOR: I am Maureen O'Neill from the Law Faculty and my question was asked earlier but in light of looking at the international make-up, 70 percent of the students in law in the graduate programme come internationally and our faculty is hugely represented internationally. One of the things we do and try very hard to do is celebrate that by pointing it out, and in my outreach to law firms I went up this escalator in Chancery Lane where they had this "I am an immigrant" poster campaign that illustrated the value of having immigrants and their contributions in how many years. It would be interesting to be able to be proactive in our belonging to the world by perhaps using the web or using our different departments to say "I am an immigrant, this is what I have brought to this global, grand university and this is how I think we have to carry on and participate." We also have huge outreach in our alumni who would be able to assist in illustrating this as well. So I think that we have it all, it is just figuring out how we can deliver it as a profile for all, a proud profile that we can all wear from here on out in a hopeful manner, as you suggest.
THE VICE-CHANCELLOR: I have been an immigrant in two different countries, so I am completely sympathetic to this approach. I do want to raise another point. It is not just about projecting Oxford and saying we are welcoming. What we really have to do is persuade the British public that immigration is a good thing and we are not going to do that if we just talk to ourselves because we, I think, all believe it is a very good thing. Part of how this referendum was lost was because the majority of British people have clearly concluded that immigration is not a good thing, and I think we have to work – and I have raised this in the Russell Group – on how we launch a campaign saying immigration is a good thing, because it does look as if the political choice is going to come down to free movement of people and free access to the market - we need to change the political discussion around immigration and we cannot do that on our own.
We can, I hope, have an impact if we operate with other universities. The economic evidence is simply overwhelming that immigrants bring so much to a country, but as we all know, it is not just the finances that they bring, the economic development that they bring, it is the cultural richness and just enriching the fabric of all our lives, but I think it is important, as we smart from the wounds that have been inflicted by this referendum, that we do not just talk to ourselves, that we look out at the rest of the country and what we have to do nationally to change the debate, to try and influence that debate, so that next time there comes to be a vote, that just enough people might be persuaded that actually immigration is a good thing and not something to worry about. That is a tougher task but we have to do it.
QUESTION FROM THE FLOOR: Isn't the issue of diversity fundamental to what happened in the EU referendum? I don't want to bore you with my analysis of that, but one of the things I would say is that the failure of the educational system in this country, its failure for white working class English boys, in particular, is shameful and one of the reasons why areas of the country voted leave was because institutions like this have done nothing of note to further the interests or at least assist white working class society. Diversity is not just about immigrants from abroad, it is also those who are under- resourced and suffer in this country.
THE VICE-CHANCELLOR: I think that is true. I think that is absolutely the case, and it is very sobering for all the universities to think - I have never seen all the universities in this country being unanimous on any issue, and here we were. There was such a difference, such a gap between us and the 52 percent who voted Leave, and I think that is a real indictment and something I have been thinking a lot about.
How do we address it? I think part of it is, as you suggest, related, although the numbers are so small, I think it is broader than that. It is a broader distance between, if you like, the elite or elite institutions like this and British society, and how do we become more present in the societies which we need to reach and from which we need to recruit. You are right, white working class males are the particular group who have the lowest chance of coming to universities. I was looking recently at some data – I was trying to think out of the box about how we might address admissions and I said, well, let's just look at the top 10 percent of every group, so black boys, black girls, white boys, white girls, Asians, and so on, in each socio-economic category. If you look at the top 10 per cent of white working class boys, you don't find any A-levels. So even the top 10 per cent we cannot recruit. They have been failed by society long before they ever come to us, and we cannot fix that on our own. I just found this data extraordinary.
Anyway, your broader point is right: the universities have become too distant from too broad a swathe of British society. I don't accept that we have done nothing. I think we have a lot of people working very hard and our numbers are a lot better than they were some years ago - they are not as good as they will be some years from now. As you know the UNIQ summer schools are going on at the moment and that is changing the demographic of our student body, but your broader point is right, and I think this vote revealed a very sobering gap between institutions like ours and, as it turns out, the majority of the British public.
I will go to some pre-submitted questions again. We have actually covered most of the areas. One of the questions here was - I am not sure if I can find it. Again, it is an answer the person didn't want to get but I feel I should give it, which is to say that a number of people spend their Oxford salaries in other currencies, so that they have already experienced a significant drop in the value of their salaries since the referendum and wanted to know if the University would make up that difference.
I am delighted that is your reaction. Anyway, so you have anticipated my reaction which was going to be no, we cannot do that, because this is so highly variable and currency rates change all the time. I have huge sympathy, as this was coming from people who were in tropical medicine - we have large numbers of people employed overseas working in this field - and I am afraid there is just no alternative to sucking it up at the moment. The University cannot compensate for that because we would tie ourselves in knots trying to adjust to currency exchanges.
I would say we have taken quite a hit, OUP has taken a hit - we don't have the numbers yet. But certainly the University, as distinct from OUP, has lost several millions of pounds just in currency exchanges over the last three weeks. So this is really a serious financial hit to the institution as well as to all of us individually, and especially to our research funding.
I feel badly about the people upstairs who have been disenfranchised from speaking. If anybody is up there and would like to speak, please come down. We do have one question here.
QUESTION FROM THE FLOOR: Hello, my name is Alice Bowen and I am a young career researcher, so I am not yet on a permanent contract. We have already had highlighted the difficulties that we may emphasise in research funding in total, but I also wanted to put forward a question saying, if there is a significant hit to research funding, this is likely to specifically hit young career researchers, many of whom were applying for their first grants on programmes such as the Marie Curie grants which allow incoming researchers from Europe, or those who have been in Europe for several years, to come back to this country. And I just wondered - I know this University has done a lot for young career researchers with the junior researcher fellowships, etcetera, in terms of college support - that if there is a significant hit in European funding for young career researchers, whether there could be any possibility that the University would replace this, or at least consider replacing it, when they are trying to tackle research funding as a whole?
THE VICE-CHANCELLOR: Thank you. I think what we would have to do is fundraise specifically for this. Certainly, we have been talking to our development team about fundraising. If it transpires that this is the case - and you are right, it could well be - we will absolutely try to fundraise to fill the gap.
The thing to bear in mind is, again, we just don't know how it is going to play out. There are many models for relationships with the EU. There is still the possibility that it won't happen - I still cling on to that hope, I am a perennial optimist. But, even if it does happen, there are a number of different models - the Norwegian model, the Israeli model, we don't want to think about the Swiss model - so it is unlikely this funding would go to nought but there is no doubt that, the way the funding is constructed, some parts of the University will be hit more than others, some subjects will be hit more than others. As far as I know Computer Science is actually the department most dependent on ERC funding - I think it is 45 percent of their funding. So it is highly variable, and it all depends on how this plays out, where the biggest hits would be felt.
All I can say is we are committed to our young researchers. They are the life blood of our institution and we will have to figure out a way to ensure that we keep them and keep attracting these smart young people and create an environment where they can become our senior research people.
QUESTION FROM THE FLOOR: This sort of follows on from what you were talking about - the hits to various economics here at the University. I just wonder if we are seeing a situation unfolding like 2007/2008 where a lot of capital investments and development in the University would be put on hold because funding bodies might just say, well, we are not so sure we want to put money into you, such as the development of Osney Mead for instance as a new knowledge centre.
THE VICE-CHANCELLOR: To be honest, I have not been party to any conversations about putting anything on hold. On the contrary, I have been party to various conversations about saying this is an opportunity to go to the Government and say this is something that you should invest in - I am thinking particularly of capital projects. Again, on this line, we need to ensure that science and innovation is the focal point, is central to the Government strategy as a means of driving the economy in a post- Brexit Britain.
I think the situation in 2007 was very different. Ironically, part of our response to that was to encourage people to apply for EU funding to diversify our source of funding, and it's precisely because of how successful our researchers have been that we are now so exposed. I don't think there are many other - I don't doubt you are all out there trying to identify alternate sources - but, on the face of it, there are not a huge number. But at this point we have no plans to stop anything. I don't think we had any European funding for capital, so we were not dependent on, so I don't think we need to worry about that at this point.
QUESTION FROM THE FLOOR: Laura Hoyano, Fellow of Wadham and a member of the Law Faculty. I am just slightly concerned about the mood about ‘we'll wait and see’ because, for example, in September/October, students will be applying for our four-year degree in Law with Law Studies in Europe, and they would be going to Europe, funded normally by Erasmus in two years' time, when Brexit comes to a culmination. We are in a position of not being able to tell them what funding will be available, if anything, for them to spend their third year studying French law, Spanish law, and so forth. I know the Dean of the Law Faculty is working on this but, at the same time, I am concerned there is a bit of a drift happening at the moment, when these students are going to be interviewed in December and they are going to be asking interviewers: "What do we do?"
Similarly, as Maureen as mentioned, our (Inaudible) degree is very heavily taken up by European students who will be dependent upon paying home student fees instead of foreign student fees, and that also they often have Erasmus funding. So I am concerned that this not be allowed to drift because we have young people on our doorsteps as tutors asking us questions we cannot answer now, and I am really worried that we will not have any answers either in November or December, and that is going to have a particularly adverse impact on access.
The other thing I would just note, in terms of the campaign group for the Russell Group, I think it is very important to note that these Erasmus students, my students - and I have taught them for 17 years – are passionately devoted to Oxford and to their colleges because they get better teaching here. Almost all the students I have taught have said they had never once spoken to an academic until they were sitting a sofa across from me and I was saying to them "Tell why I am wrong?" They still keep in contact with me, with their college and with the University. They are one of our best ambassador programmes we could possibly have for UK Higher Education, and I think that is a message that really needs to be sent by this group in lobbying for a continuation in some form of Erasmus funding, whether it is backed up by the UK Government and whether we actually still give European students home student fee status.
THE VICE-CHANCELLOR: I don't entirely accept that there is a drift. We have said that EU students starting now, starting in September, will pay home fees for the duration of their studies. We have said, or I am saying now, that by the time we open admissions on September 1st for 17/18, we will announce the fees for EU students. I fully expect they are going to be home fees.
You make a separate point about Erasmus students. I think Erasmus is one of the most successful and valuable aspects of our relationship with the EU - it is absolutely terrific. What I think we need to do in programmes like yours is simply model how many students we are talking about, what those costs are. The University is simply not in a position to underwrite all the implications of this vote - I wish we could. So in the case of a particular programme in a particular department, I think we have to sit down and model exactly what is the cost, if indeed by then we are out of the EU - and I have to say all the indications are that this is going to be a very long process – but even then, let's assume it goes on to be the most expedited possible process, we would be out in January 2019, which would affect the students you are talking about. We need to model what it would cost.
RESPONSE FROM THE QUESTIONER: I apologise, I think I was not clear. The students I am referring to are UK students who are going on this particular degree programme we have in which, in their third year, they spend time abroad studying French law in French, Spanish law in Spanish, and so forth. They have uncertainty. So the assurances about EU student status come October I appreciate, but that doesn't relate to the future of these students, who are UK students who have previously had their third year abroad paid for by the Erasmus programme and paid home student fees for that year.
THE VICE-CHANCELLOR: Thank you for that clarification. I had not gotten that. Again, we have been lobbying on the Erasmus programme, we have been lobbying heavily. I can't guarantee how that is going to come out.
QUESTION FROM THE FLOOR: Hello, my name is Achilles Kapanidis, Professor of Physics and a Fellow of St Cross. I have a question about Horizon 2020 grants. A lot of my colleagues, a lot of spin- out companies from universities, are considering applying but they find themselves in disadvantaged situations because their European colleagues don't know whether they should be including them because this may actually work out against them because of the uncertainty of the situation. Of course that hurts our chances a lot because a lot of people will be put off from actually applying, which means we are losing a lot of chances in the next year or two to actually gain funding from the European Union and we don't know of course what the various agreements will result in terms of the participation in such programmes.
So can the University do something to basically reassure the people who want to participate in these programmes that, in the unlikely case that there is no agreement, that there will be financial backing and this way de-risk the participation? And then also send a very strong message showing leadership that we are behind people who are ready to engage, and this way reassure also European colleagues that we want to continue engaging in research with our colleagues on the continent.
THE VICE-CHANCELLOR: Again, I wish I could say we could simply underwrite it, I just can't see how we can. What I can say we have done is that I have lobbied Jo Johnson personally on this point and the Russell Group is all over it. We have gone directly to the European Commission and we have gone to the European Research Council and they have issued a statement saying that they expect no decline in British applicants. We have gotten LERU, the League of European Research Universities, who tend to produce our collaborators to issue a statement that they will be completely supportive of us. But I am hearing the same anecdotal things you are, which is that it doesn't matter what the rules are, what the statements are. We are trying to counter that by creating a climate in which that is not acceptable. When we said this to Jo Johnson, he said "I will go to the Commissioner, he wants any discrimination reported to him", and we said it is not overt discrimination, it is much more nuanced than that. Again, we would need to model what the actual costs are, but my assumption is the University cannot underwrite this.
RESPONSE FROM QUESTIONER: But can this be a concerted effort of all the universities?
THE VICE-CHANCELLOR: It certainly is amongst the Russell Group. I haven't engaged much with the others, but, as you know, the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge has lived and breathed this issue. He is leading the European group. Nobody has been more devastated than him by this result and he has been back and forth with the Commission lobbying. He is also chairing the EU group here in London but he is also over in Brussels too, trying to protect our research. I wish I could be more reassuring.
RESPONSE FROM QUESTIONER: Any action would be useful because we are meeting colleagues in international meetings and they are very concerned as well, and they want to help. So if they see some positive action from us, they will reciprocate. This is quite important.
THE VICE-CHANCELLOR: We can make sure that the statements by LERU and the European Research Council are circulated, that you have them, and that you can show them to your EU colleagues so that they are aware of them. But I would be very robust about this and say "You cannot exclude us, we are in here and we should be funded." A few years from now that may be harder but, for now, absolutely.
I am going to take one last question here as we are almost out of time.
QUESTION FROM THE FLOOR: Thank you. There were many requests here about the financial implications of Brexit and whether the University can do something to mitigate that, and your response to all of them has been that we cannot simply underwrite everything. So it is not an all or nothing approach. Is the University taking any steps to do something, to contribute any money, any funding to mitigate some of the costs of Brexit, and how are they going to be prioritised? Whether there will be more emphasis on research or on the students? Thank you.
THE VICE-CHANCELLOR: Thank you. The problem is at this point we don't know where the costs are going to lie - are we going to need to underwrite EU students? Should we be raising money for that? Are we going to have to underwrite research? Should we be raising money for that? At this point we don't know where the costs are going to fall. I wish we did, we could plan much more effectively. What we are doing is trying to figure out where are the areas with the greatest potential for fundraising - closing the gap for EU students, for example, or indeed for research in particular areas. So we are operating under conditions of enormous uncertainty and we are trying to maximise our flexibility.
If we had this great war chest, we would be much more confident than we can be, but it may get to a point that there will be costs across all these areas, in which case we will have a debate in Council, and possibly Congregation, as to where the priorities should be. At this point we absolutely believe that we are not going to end up incurring costs to get visas for all our people. We could be wrong, but we are very confident we are not going to have to do that. The research funding is the one I am most worried about. I think we will be able to manage the students as well because, ultimately, we are not talking about large numbers, even in the programmes like the Law Faculty and Erasmus that we have just heard about. Where there are real large numbers and where it relates directly to the status of the University, or the essence of the University, which is research, is the one we are most worried about. But, again, for research you cannot fundraise across the piece, you have to identify people and foundations with an interest in a particular area and try and fundraise from them.
So, as I say, we are operating under enormous uncertainty. I cannot just tell you we are going to do X, Y and Z because it really depends how it plays out. What I can say is that my colleagues and I are living and breathing this and we are doing absolutely everything we can possibly think of. But if you can think of other things that we can be doing, I hope you will share your ideas with us because we really are all in this together.
We have run out of time, so thank you for coming. We will, as I said, make available the stenographer's account of what has occurred and we will make this available on the website. Any of you who have submitted questions that were not addressed, we will ensure that you get an answer.
I was going to say something . . . I was going to be very American and say "Go hug an immigrant." Do everything we as individuals can to make sure that every immigrant in this country knows that they are welcome, and especially every immigrant in this institution. So this referendum result is a blow to this institution but as Churchill said - what was that line? - the situation is serious but not desperate - something along those lines - and that is how I see it. This is a serious situation, but it is a situation that ultimately we will be able to manage, even if it not going to be terribly smooth.
Please keep sending your ideas and we will do our best to keep you as fully informed as we can and we will be working on this as hard as we can. Thank you.