The University and Europe

A personal perspective on the European Union

Professor Sir Timothy O'Shea, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh, offers his personal perspective on the European Union.

The weeks since the outcome of the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union have afforded us time to reflect on what has been a major event in our recent history – one on which the dust will certainly take a long time to settle.

I can say that the majority vote in favour of an exit from the EU struck me - in the immediate aftermath at least - as the most depressing political event in my lifetime.

As an immigrant of German-Irish heritage whose mother was a refugee and whose father was also an immigrant, I felt we were in danger of overturning a long and positive commitment to the common values of conciliation, welcome and cooperation that inspired the EU at the outset.  The University, the city of Edinburgh, Scotland and the UK as a whole, have all received so much over the years that is positive through EU membership that I struggle to understand the wish to leave.   

Edinburgh has always been European in outlook and the University has attracted the finest minds from across Europe for a number of centuries.  This is reflected in the values of many of our staff and students.

However, we are where we are, and as a natural optimist I think there are good things that can be extracted from every situation.

Following the referendum result, we have worked hard to reassure our staff and students about their future at Edinburgh – especially those from EU countries.  I am heartened to see that, so far, we have not lost any EU staff or students as a result of the outcome of the vote.

I was also pleased to receive letters of support from leaders of universities around Europe, pledging their continued support for our many partnerships and collaborations, and indeed wishing to build on and accelerate existing and planned links with the Continent and its great centres of teaching and research. 

As a community, we are determined that the University of Edinburgh will continue to wear its heart on its sleeve as a European and international university and I know that we will be even more global and outward-looking in the future, not less.  The post-Brexit landscape will offer us many opportunities to thrive and we will be ready to take them.  

Our many staff and students from EU countries contribute hugely to making our University a wonderful place to come to study and learn, as well as a place of ideas, with genuine vibrancy and innovation at its heart.

I am confident that by working together in even closer collaboration with our European friends and partners, we can continue to make it so.


Professor Sir Timothy O'Shea FRSE

Principal and Vice-Chancellor

The University of Edinburgh