26 October 2017
In recent days those of us teaching about the EU in the UK’s universities, many of whom are UACES members, have made the news. On October 3rd 2017, the UK Conservative Whip and MP for Daventry, Chris Heaton-Harris, sent a brief letter on House of Commons stationery to UK university Vice-Chancellors asking for information. Specifically, he asked the VCs ‘to supply’ him with:
‘the names of Professors at your establishment who are involved in the teaching of European affairs, with particular reference to Brexit. Furthermore, if I could be provided with a copy of the syllabus and links to the online lectures which relate to this area I would be much obliged.’
The Conservative government has since distanced itself from Mr Heaton-Harris’ initiative. The Daily Mail has taken up the charge against what it sees as University bias in favour of Remain, at least some VCs have not obliged, and many of our members have expressed their disquiet at the nature of the request.
UACES did not take a position before or after the UK’s referendum on 23 June 2016; nor has it adopted a stance with regards to the ongoing negotiations to bring about the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. But it vigorously contests any politically-motivated interference with the right of its members to research and teach - especially on Britain's withdrawal from the EU - in the spirit of academic freedom, and it rejects all attempts to impugn the professional integrity of its members.
Let us not forget that UACES exists because in 1967 a handful of U.K.-based scholars noted the U.K's rejection from the then EEC in 1963 and 1967 and wanted to understand the UK's European neighbours as those neighbours joined forces. Courses in European Studies sprang up and generations of fortunate students emerged with advanced foreign language skills with which to decode 'the continent' and European integration. Most of those UK-based courses and departments have now closed.
What better time for us to engage with our students on this generation-defining development? What could be more important than debate about such a sea change in the UK's relations with its neighbours? The UK government is itself investing in many of us to conduct research into Britain's withdrawal from the EU and to share our findings as widely as we can with concerned stakeholders. Experts may be derided in some quarters but we have never been busier or more involved.
UACES’s officers and staff extend their support to all UACES members teaching about Europe and the EU wherever they are based. To those of us working here in the UK’s universities, we have a responsibility to our students, present and future, to keep their minds open and their skills sharp when it comes to the ongoing story of the UK and its relations with the EU. Members tell us that UACES offers a community and a home to scholars at all stages of their careers. Our doors are open and we invite debate.
Professor Helen Drake, Chair
Dr Maria Garcia, Secretary
Dr Simon Usherwood, Treasurer
Dr Emily Linnemann, Executive Director