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University braces for Brexit as it signs new “Maastricht Treaty”

• University creates new £3 million partnership with the University of Maastricht to protect funding • This week YUSU will hold a referendum on whether it should support a second Brexit vote

Image: John Robinson

The University is  preparing for a potential no-deal Brexit as the outcome of government negotiations remain uncertain after the Prime Minister’s deal was heavily defeated in the House of Commons last week. The University’s Brexit preparation group has been working to prepare the University for any potential shortfalls in funding and other disruptions to University activities.

In a move to help secure funding and maintain student and staff exchange channels with the continent, the University is signing a new “Maastricht Treaty”, a £3 million partnership deal with the University of Maastricht. The deal will help the University to keep this funding and channels, even in the event of a no-deal exit from the European Union. Maastricht is the city where the treaty which created the European Union was signed in 1992.

The University receives around £10 million in research funding from the EU. This is around 15 per cent of the University’s overall £71 million research budget. Students and staff at the University both come from and go to study in EU member states. 300 York students per year study in continental Europe as part of their course. There are fears a no-deal Brexit risks a budgetary black hole developing, and deals like this one are designed to mitigate such an outcome.

Acting Vice-Chancellor, Saul Tendler, said of the new partnership: “I think it is symbolically important that we will be in Maastricht on Friday formally announcing the partnership,” he said. “We are not at all apologetic about it. We are internationalists, we value international collaboration in higher education, with business and governments, and we are proud of them, and we value very highly our international staff.”

A University of York spokesperson also said: “The final outcome on Brexit remains unclear. The University remains committed to protecting the interests of its staff and students and ensuring the University is as well placed as we can be for any disruption. A Brexit preparation group led by the Registrar and Secretary is continuing to monitor the likely impacts of Brexit and to plan for a range of scenarios, including no-deal.”

Union President James Durcan said of YUSU’s role in the preparations: “YUSU asked the University to establish an EU advice hub for staff and students. This went live in the new year and is being populated and further developed as the situation continues to become clearer - it can be found at: https://www.york. 
We are in an ongoing dialogue with the University to try to ensure that students’ interests are best protected and if any student has any particular concerns, they can raise these through the EU online advice hub, with their department or with YUSU.”

Last term, the YUSU Policy Review Group (PRG) decided to hold a Union-wide referendum on the ratification of a policy proposal submitted by Finn Judge. The policy calls for YUSU to be “mandated to campaign and devote publicity towards students taking political action in favour of a vote on the terms of the UK’s departure from the European Union - which must include a ‘Remain’ option.”  After an initial briefing on Thursday failed to yield two opposing campaign teams, Nouse understands that both teams have now been formed.

After a consultation, this proposal was later amended to clearly emphasise YUSU’s educational objectives in terms of the impact of Brexit on students at York, and a desire for them to have a ‘say’ over the Brexit process. This amendment was proposed by Finn Judge, and was later approved by the PRG and YUSU Deputy Returning Officer. The final referendum question, however, is yet to be finalised at time of print.

There will be a referendum debate held tomorrow in P/X/001 from 5pm until 7pm, with voting opening when the debate concludes. Campaigning will also begin after the debate ends. The debate will be chaired by the Policy Coordinator, who chairs the PRG, Josh Mackenzie. Two speakers from the campaign teams for both sides will be debating with a “lengthy opportunity” for the audience to ask the speakers questions.

Finn Judge said of his reasons for proposing the policy: “The University receives over £10 million per year from the EU in research grants. EU students at York contribute more than £11 million annually to the economy. A ‘no-deal’ Brexit would put significant financial strain on the institution and the local community: this could mean cuts to the student experience and cost savings elsewhere, including higher accommodation prices.”

Union President, James Durcan, commented on the referendum to Nouse: “Brexit, and all the debates surrounding it, will have a huge impact on our students. It’s important that the University and YUSU do all we can to communicate clearly with students. As a Union led by its student membership, we’d encourage students to engage with our upcoming referendum and have their say on the proposal.”

If the referendum returns a ‘yes’ vote, the policy will be adopted by YUSU and the Union will devote resources to support a public vote. Regardless of the outcome of the referendum, YUSU will continue to work with the University to protect the interests of students at York as the Brexit process continues and going forward after it concludes.

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