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Oxford responds to Brexit

eleanor's article

Oxford has voted overwhelmingly to remain a member of the EU, in stark contrast to national referendum result. A huge 70.27% placed their ballot in favour of EU membership, one of the highest majorities in the country behind Cambridge and parts of Scotland and London. In response, Oxford University Vice -Chancellor Louise Richardson has reassured students that she anticipates no immediate changes to the normal running of the University

In contrast to Oxford’s referendum results, a substantial 52% of the UK voted to leave European Union on Thursday, in a dramatic and unexpected political shift that has reverberated across Europe. In a letter to the University, Professor Richardson, wrote: “I see our responsibility now to do all we can to protect and advance the interests of the University.”  This follows an open letter published on Monday, where Professor Richardson was among 103 other university heads that unequivocally condemned a UK exit from the EU.

The city also stands out from the other 4 districts in Oxfordshire. Cherwell supported Leave by a small margin and none of the other regions came close to the same 40.53 % majority for Remain in Oxford. This further highlights the polarized results of the referendum with pro-Remain areas like Liverpool, Manchester and Cardiff strongly at odds with the surrounding regions.

The response from Oxford students reflects the strong feelings that underpin this key change in the country’s future. A first year law student from New College, Rebecca Withey, commented: “The fact that with today’s result we are entering a period of volatility is really scary. I was surprised by the result and the fact that the majority of the British public chose to ignore the views of political and economic experts.”

She stressed that: “Having studied constitutional law, the decision to vote to remain seemed clear and it’s just a shame that our generation will have to face this unknown, in spite of the fact that under-30s were one of the main groups of remain voters.” Miranda Reilly, a first year English student, was more surprised than concerned: “I hadn’t been worrying about it at all, we’re just in this Oxford bubble, so it came as a big shock.”

“It’ll be interesting to see how this impacts relationships between Oxford remain and leave students”.

Although the results showed Oxford’s young population overwhelmingly favours EU membership, responses to the referendum were by no means unanimous.  Particularly online the divide was clearer, with debates raging on Facebook groups like ‘Open Oxford’ and ‘Openest Oxford’. Some users expressed frustration at the ‘dismissive attitudes’ of Oxford students towards Leave voters and older participants in the referendum.

Oxford University has reassured students and staff that it has ‘planned for the key questions arising from a vote in favour of leaving the EU’ and that ‘Oxford will continue as one of the world’s outstanding Universities’. Professor Louise Richardson has also stated: “While this was not the result that many of us wished for, the result is clear.” She went on to say: “my colleagues and I will plan internally for any changes that may be necessary and will work with others in the sector to lobby government to ensure our interests are protected.”

Nevertheless many student and academic institutions have been far more direct in their response to the shock result. Universities UK (UUK), the national higher education action group, expressed its disappointment in the result. UUK President said this is “not an outcome we wished or campaigned for,” and the NUS said, overall, it is “disappointed” by the results.  Oxford University’s official statement also emphasized the importance of its continental connections: “UK membership of the EU has supported our broader vision for Oxford as a global hub for intellectual engagement”. It also made a point of mentioning the importance of EU research funding, a figure it put at some £66m in 2014/15.

Vice-Chancellor Richardson ended her statement with a stoic response to the recent political turmoil: “It is perhaps worth noting that our university has survived greater disruptions than this over the centuries. I am confident that our wonderful cosmopolitan community of scholars and students united in our commitment to education and research will continue to thrive and will emerge even stronger from these extraordinary times.”

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