Cambridge and Brexit

If the UK leaves the European Union, it will cost Cambridge University about £100m, or about 10% of our turnover.

I present the details in an article today in the Cambridge News.

I reckon we will lose at least £60m of the £69m we get in European grants, at least £20m of our £237m fee income (most of which is from foreign students), at least £10m from Cambridge Assessment and Cambridge University Press, and £5m each from industry and charities. Although I’m an elected member of Council (the governing body) and the committee that sets the budget, all this comes from our published accounts.

And my estimates are conservative; the outcome could easily be worse, especially if foreign students desert us, or just can’t get visas after a popular vote against immigration.

Now everyone on Britain pays on average £4 a year to the EU and gets £2 back. The net contribution of £2 amounts to £12.5m for a town the size of Cambridge. The University alone is getting more than four times that back directly, and yet more indirectly. And the same goes for many other university towns too; even Newcastle gets more than would be raised by everyone in the city paying £2 a year.

But this is not just about money; it’s about who we are, and also about what other people perceive us to be. If Britain votes to leave Europe following a xenophobic campaign against immigrants, people overseas may conclude that Britain is to longer a cool place to study, or to start a research lab. Even some of the people already here will leave. We will do the best we can to keep the flame alight, but it will be very much harder for Cambridge to remain a world-leading university.

See also the Cambridge News editorial, and my piece yesterday on Brexit and tech.

16 thoughts on “Cambridge and Brexit

  1. I’m a fan of your work, Dr Anderson, and I’m proud to own a copy of your book “Security Engineering”. I’m happy to be a fellow Scot and graduate of Trinity College. But I must take issue with your line on the EU. (Disclaimer: I shall be voting “Leave”, because I value parliamentary democracy, habeas corpus, trial by jury, the presumption of innocence, and freedom of speech, along with dozens of other British institutions and freedoms. And, as I recollect, Britain was doing quite well in science and technology before it joined the EU).

    You write that Cambridge University does well out of the EU, but don’t your own figures simply show that Cambridge is getting far more than its fair share of the EU cake? Moreover, the EU undeniably gives Britain back far less than it receives from us. So essentially what you are celebrating is an involuntary tax on ordinary British people to subsidize Cambridge University – a subsidy which you apparently believe an independent UK government would not continue, even with the considerably greater disposable funds it would have after Brexit.

    As I understand it, the UK’s net payment to Brussels is about £250 million a week, and we get back about £80 million a week ( That’s a gap of £170 a week going to Brussels, or about £8.5 billion a year. Enough to run the entire NHS for nearly one month, or to pay for tens of thousands of doctors and nurses. Or the substantial equivalent in teachers, schools, or whatever other public services you like.

    And here you are, Dr Anderson, asking your fellow citizens to vote Remain so that Cambridge University can go on receiving £100 million a year from a foreign institution, at a cost of £8.4 billion a year to themselves! Wouldn’t it be fairer to Leave, and then ask the UK government to continue paying that £100 million a year to Cambridge?

    Surely a small fraction of that £

    1. Alas and dammit, I wrote “a gap of £170 a week going to Brussels”. Of course that should read “a gap of £170 million a week going to Brussels”. Sorry, I’m a historian not a scientist. 😎

  2. “But this is not just about money; it’s about who we are, and also about what other people perceive us to be. If Britain votes to leave Europe following a xenophobic campaign against immigrants, people overseas may conclude that Britain is to longer a cool place to study, or to start a research lab”.

    As you must know, the question is not what people look like or where they come from, but how many of them there are. The population of the UK is less than 1% of the global population, and there is a limit to how many people can comfortably live in it. Even if 1 billion Einsteins, Newtons and Hawkings were asking for entry, we would have to refuse most of them – regardless of their qualities. The issue of racism is one that has been raised by the Remainians in order to slander the Leave campaign.

  3. Tom, £250m a week divided by the UK population is about £4 a week, just as £136m a week back gives £2 a week to the nearest pound. But paying £2 a week to keep the neighbourhood safe and tidy doesn’t sound as scary as the quite mendacious £350m a week that I keep getting on leaflets through my letterbox. I pay over ten times that much in council tax.

    The net effect of EU contributions and subsidies is that some money flows from Londoners (who pay a third of UK income tax) to places like Merseyside through regional and structural funds, and to places like Cambridge through research funds. Londoners support the EU as they make loads of money from trade and finance and other services. They will vote strongly for remain.

    The key point though is not economic. It’s that the exit camp has pulled ahead only after a couple of weeks of viciously xenophobic campaigning about immigrants. If the UK leaves under such circumstances it will open up deep social divisions and many people will simply be ashamed to be British. I myself married a women of African-Asian origin, and have many in-laws who are Hindu or Muslim. The one member of our family who proposed to vote leave, citing economic arguments, has now decided for remain, like Saeeda Warsi and many others. Overseas it will be a catastrophe, as it will tell the world that Britain put xenophobia before rational economic self-interest. It will put us in the same boat as Hungary and Turkey; Hungarian and Turkish friends are ashamed of their passports. No tech firm would dream of setting up a new research lab there. It will also be a signal to other populists like le Pen and their supporters. There is no telling where it will end. And many Scots will no longer see independence as merely an economic calculation, or a conflict between the heart and the wallet. They will see it as a moral necessity.

    1. “I myself married a women of African-Asian origin, and have many in-laws who are Hindu or Muslim”.

      I don’t think you can have noticed the part of my comment where I explained that it is not people’s personal characteristics that are at issue, but purely the number of immigrants we can absorb. Indeed, both UKIP and the broader Leave campaign insist that leaving the EU would allow us to reduce immigration from the EU, allowing more people from the rest of the world to enter. (Such as people from Africa and Asia).

      Surely this whole matter of immigration is one of the classic clashes between head and heart. The heart rejects the need to turn away anyone who wants to join us, or who needs help. But the head notices that we have no obligation at all to accept immigrants or to succor refugees, and that even though we may wish to, there are limits to what we can do.

      I absolutely reject any accusation that I am racist, or indeed prejudiced against anyone on the grounds of their nationality, colour, religion, or – within limits – culture. (I do have a prejudice against cannibals and those who enjoy ritual torture, for example). And I cannot understand why the Remain camp keep on insinuating that there is an element of racism in the calm, honest calculation that the UK cannot accept unlimited numbers of immigrants.

      1. I am an outsider to Britain watching these developments. Personally, Mr. Welsh may not be racist. Accept that fully. But a large part of the Leave camp seem to be. That is really the accusation. USA has overtaken Britain and rest of Europe in research a long time ago, barring some brilliant spots like Cambridge. Guarding these centres of excellence is a massive effort, not just financially but by attracting the best and the brightest which may not fit into the Leave camp’s controlled immigration.

    2. “And many Scots will no longer see independence as merely an economic calculation, or a conflict between the heart and the wallet”. There are those who have suggested, quite seriously, that a referendum should be held on the question: “England should become an independent country, yes or no?” There are those who, to put it crudely, are heartedly sick of the whinging Scots and would happily leave them to their own devices and resources.

      The 1707 Act of Union came about almost entirely because Scotland was then bankrupt. The Darien adventure went tits-up with the loss of somewhat over £400K, then roughly 20% of the wealth of the country. One of the first actions of the newly united government was to write off that debt.

      The Scots joined the union for entirely selfish economic reasons. There was precious little xenophilia involved in the decision.

  4. Xenophobia is a security mechanism invented by evolution. Culture (such as language idioms) is deliberately tricky so that a foreigner can’t just walk in and pretend to be part of the group. Not that “natural” means “good”. Murder and rape were also invented by evolution. However since xenophobia is a security mechanism, you might have something to say about it. Why did newspapers promote it, then TV rolled it right back, and now the Internet promotes it again?

  5. Tom, I have not accused you of racism and so am not going to be drawn into a discussion of whether you are one or are merely behaving like one. “I’m not a racist but there are too many of them” is a line that minorities, their friends and relatives, and liberals generally, find to be offensive. In modern societies, hate crimes are defined by the target community rather than those who seek to marginalise, stigmatise or hound them; gay people largely determine what’s homophobic while Jewish people are the main authority on what’s anti-semitic. And yes, my Jewish friends are as appalled at Gove and Johnson as I am.

    In the circumstances of a divisive campaign where the exit camp has repeatedly lied about immigration and never even promised to reduce it, it is at the very least extremely bad manners of you to persist in a xenophobic line of argument despite being put clearly on notice about its being offensive.

    The issues of immigration and the economy are not separate. Populist xenophobia breeds in the swamp of economic recession, and the fix for it to not to throw out the Poles and the Pakistanis. It is to create jobs and growth. The growth sectors, such as IT, higher education, finance, corporate services, travel and entertainment are all global and all involve hiring bright people from overseas. This week I hired two new postdocs – one from Germany and one from Spain. Did I do wrong? There were no British applicants we could have hired. No point complaining that these young people were “taking bread out of the mouths of the British workers”; and as for the fact that they compete for housing in a tight Cambridge market, the fix for that is to build more houses. That provides actual jobs for working class people rather than empty promises.

  6. I accept that the EU does provide funds for valuable research, but it also funds too much worthless research which is not properly published and often ends up behind a paywall (can’t explain ‘worthless’ here). A few years ago I complained to the powers that dole out the money and, to their credit, they did make a few small changes. Over the years I have had dealings with various departments of HMG and have been routinely ignored, mislead and on occasions threatened.

    I think the Brexit types have a very narrow conception of democracy. For sure the EU is pretty undemocratic, but putting a cross on a piece paper every few years is not in itself democracy. It might be going too far to say we have an elected dictatorship, although perhaps not (it does feel like sometimes). The referendum is a better of two evils decision. Neither the EU nor the UK are great examples of democracy, but it is the former that has the greater potential to be so if we fully commit to it and press for reform. I hope, if we do vote to stay in, the Brexit lobby will redirect their energies to reforming the EU. I have my doubts as I do not think they are really interested in democracy if it includes foreigners.

  7. Keith, I entirely agree. Lots of the research budget is wasted in both the UK and the EU, but here it’s probably going to get worse following the Nurse review while the EU is gradually tightening up its act. It’s also ridiculous that the brexit crowd keep chanting “unelected bureaucrats” about Brussels when the bureaucrats in Whitehall are worse (permanent secretaries are not political appointments, as commissioners are); the European Parliament, which plays the same role that the House of Lords does in the UK, is elected; and the real driving force is the Council, the EU heads of government working as a cabinet. If we had our own lords elected in the same way as MEPs it would be a major improvement.

    1. I agree. I would be astonished if HMG filled the research (good or bad) funding gap if we came out. Few people realise how successful UK research is, how important it is to the economy and how it attracts tens of thousands of oversea students.

  8. That Britain gives so much more to the EU than it currently receives in return, is a historical aberration: it works this way at the moment, because Britain has been doing well out of EU membership (with many young, fit, healthy, well-qualified, hard-working people from Poland/ France/ Germany/ Spain coming here to work or study) — while the EU has been suffering from a temporary economic reversal, and paying for integration and economic restructuring of former Soviet satellite states. Spain has been carrying the health-care costs of supporting hundreds of thousands of British pensioners who preferred to retire to the sunny Spanish climes. How expensive will our membership fees look, when we get a reversal on these fortunes?

    For any one of several of the key advantages we were getting (including full access to EU markets for our banking sector etc. — which the Brexiteers assured us would continue as before, regardless) — our contributions were good value for money.

    Yet for all the proven lies, what I find most disgusting is Michael Gove’s attack on “experts”. I cannot understand why he hates experts so much, after working so hard as Education Secretary to create yet more of them!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *