Conservative MP Chris Heaton-Harris has raised a bit of a flap by writing to university vice chancellors, asking who teaches which EU courses, and what exactly it is that they teach.

One doubts any recipient would have been irked if the same letter had come from the Brexit Department and was associated with the prospect of a lucrative consultancy contract, but we’ll let that ride.


What is really shocking to ivory-tower wizards is that anyone dares to challenge their self-presumed status as impartial guardians of Euro-lore. Because, in a number of cases, fair balance is precisely what has long been lacking.

Over more than two decades, I’ve seen professors of EU studies at work. Academics working in the field are indubitably personally more biased towards the EU, taken in the round. A few years ago when I was working on a publication commissioned by Open Europe on how the huge EU propaganda system operated, I decided to run a spot check to test an observation, dropping a line to as many listed UK academics as I could find. I invited them to place themselves (admittedly, very simplistically) on a Euroscepticism scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being Ted Heath and 10 being Bill Cash.

Creditably, I got quite a large number of responses. They were also remarkably forthright in adding personal thoughts (including a couple of particularly insulting replies). Some key points emerged.

Firstly, the mean was around 3.5, confirming that yes indeed, lecturers in EU affairs do tend to be more pro-EU. Two individuals alone bucked the trend.

Secondly, respondees also underlined the need to have balance in the classroom, sometimes noting this was more important precisely because of their own acknowledged leanings.

These responses of course are anecdotal and little more than a fag-packet survey, though further mitigated by the detail that those most likely to be biased were also least likely to respond to the question in the first place. That said, the wide-ranging comments did confirm that there was an inherent risk of bias associated with EU studies that was professionally acknowledged within the sector.

This should be uncontroversial because it is inherent in the nature of research. You pursue a subject because you are interested in the field, and remain drawn to stay in it. The Guardian piece attacking Mr Heaton-Harris indeed has an academic also confirm this very point:

‘Prof Piet Eeckhout, academic director of University College London’s European Institute, says it is unsurprising if most academics working on Europe are in favour of the EU. “I have been teaching EU law for the last 25 years. The fact that I am sufficiently interested to spend all my days working on it obviously means I think EU law is a good thing.”’

That much is surely as obvious as the prospect of a professor in Gender Studies being to some degree more likely to support feminism. Or a lecturer in Proust quite liking France. Or a specialist in St Thomas Aquinas perhaps being a Christian. Or a lecturer in Dialectical Materialism being Communist. Or for that matter an Arabist in the Foreign Office being pro-Arab. Which is where, in an EU context and advice being proffered in Brexit talks, the problems begin.

We are not saying there is total causality and that it applies to everyone. Merely that one might productively look at the average trend, and consider what implications that might in turn generate.

The European Commission recognises academia as an ‘opinion multiplier’ (its terminology) for getting the message across. That core message is that European political integration is a good thing. If you doubt it’s as blunt as all that, I recommend a perusal of communications plans for the Commission’s DG COMM over the past 15 years or so.
The EU’s Jean Monnet scheme for funding EU Studies in its various legal, social and historical guises falls deliberately and quite consciously into that strategic framework. Hundreds of millions of euros supports outlets of EU-ness in academia, not just in the EU but globally. Some schemes are openly politicised; a larger proportion carries baggage with second order effect. The result is a number of people who pop up on TV to be asked their opinions on whether an EU policy, or the EU itself, is a good thing. They are marketed as neutral commentators, but that is not necessarily so. But because it pretends to be so, there is no public health warning.

In some cases, which I shall be generous and state in this country are an absolute rarity, that bias may even be deliberate. Academics are institutionally and professionally more successful if they can puff up their CV. That comes from hosting big conferences, sitting on grand advisory committees, and naturally getting large bounties of grant funding. Which, of course, is a large chunk of what technocratic Brussels is precisely about.

The prospect of critiquing the Commission and being frozen out must conversely also be an equal factor at play, even if as a subconscious risk. Yet it appears to be insulting to some academics even to mention this as a prospect to be mitigated against. Credibly, to a number of others, it does not.

One other thing came out of my pocket survey. I came to the conclusion that the UK was lucky. Compared with the oleaginous output of continental Jean Monnet professors (as expressed for example in supportive quotes bedecking past Jean Monnet Scheme guidebooks), our academics seem to recognise much better the risk of bias and make more of a conscious effort in the classroom to avoid one-sided assumptions. How far they succeed is a matter for the student to comment, and the reporting has notably been very mixed – perhaps exacerbated by students themselves showing the same risks of selection bias when picking their courses.

We might also contrast UK academics with continental counterparts engaged in using their very status while pushing for political integration, such as those behind the little-known Ljubljana Initiative; or the rather public example of academics who underpinned the highly controversial European Public Prosecutor (which has just now been signed off, not that anyone yet seems to have picked up on this extraordinary development). So UK academics are right to be proud of their relative openness contrasted with some other countries.



Well, to a point. Because it’s also clear from having seen many academic platforms at work that Euroscepticism has often been the +1 view bolted on to the end. The default setting has seen the seesaw of debate too often badly unbalanced. You have this EU way of doing business; that EU option; the other EU route; plus just one person invited on to the stage who disagrees with the EU route at all. Keeping tabs over the years on the UK’s association of lecturers in European Studies, it has often looked as if the collective mood music has been one of slight tolerance of Euroscepticism rather than of professionally engaging with it.

As a hard-working MEP on the Budget Committee, Mr Heaton-Harris was an ardent pursuer both of wasteful EU spending, but also of flagrant misuse of EU millions in support of its own integrationist propaganda. As an MP, he has merely asked a question. Anyone who believes questions don’t need to be asked ought to read the Red Cell paper reviewing how the EU finances the Social Sciences in the UK, and what it gets in return. Meanwhile, those in academia who are more open minded than their colleagues might also constructively reflect on what happens to – and what is the purpose of – EU Studies after Brexit, once the EU largesse finally runs out.

48 COMMENTS

  1. As we see from global warming “research”, there is a distinct correlation between the opinions of those providing the funding and the dodgy research that eventually results. The same can be seen on campuses which host “Middle-Eastern Studies” establishments, paid for by, well, Middle-Eastern interests.

    If an academic has any ability, beyond coughing up propaganda for hire, he or she should have nothing to fear from Brexit, but those who produce conclusions-on-demand have no future, other than in historians’ footnotes.

    • The research on global warming, and there is a mountain of it, looks pretty compelling to me. Are you suggesting that organisations like Nasa are falsifying results for money?

      • Organisations like NASA falsifying results for money?

        There’s a handful of NASA employees, I think at just one NASA site (Goddard Institute for Space Science) doing this kind of work. They do appear to be falsifying results.

        (Please don’t tar all of NASA with the same brush. It is a scandal that the NASA leadership doesn’t put a stop to this, however.)

          • No. NASA are not on the take. Some NASA employees are behaving corruptly.

            Who’s paying the Met Office? You and me, of course. The Royal Society? A few years ago I made a private vow to turn down fellowship if it was offered. (I knew I was safe, really.)

            Seriously, climate science has, in my view, been corrupted by a kind of rightthink which, in the case of both the Met Office and the Royal Society, leads to careers and, yes, grants.

            The idea that these organisations, or people within them, are beyond reproach, is terribly naive.

          • If you’re old enough you can see that our climate has changed. This is amply reinforced by scientific measurement of a legion of indicators. The historic record shows that our climate is changing at a rate unprecedented in hundreds of thousands of years. There is also ample evidence that CO2 is the culprit. The evidence is exceptionally strong. The only other explanation is that literally hundreds of well known organisations are corrupt and are colluding in a conspiracy of colossal proportions. I am not naive, but that sounds bark at the moon nuts to me.

          • I am old enough to remember the threat of global cooling.

            People say “climate always changes”. Of course, they’re right. But I think it would be better to think in terms of climate variation rather than change, because “change” tends to make me, at least, think of a one-way process, a kind of metamorphosis, whereas “variation” does not. And in that sense “variation” is more accurate, in my view. Still, people say what people say, and I can’t change that.

            I’m afraid I dispute all your points:

            “The historic record shows that our climate is changing at a rate unprecedented in hundreds of thousands of years.” So far as I am aware there is little global coverage of measurements and what data there are do not sustain that point of view. I think it’s also true that other historical data and archaeological data show that today’s climate is typical of many periods in the past.

            “There is also ample evidence that CO2 is the culprit. The evidence is exceptionally strong.” Of course, this relies on the truth of the first premise, which I dispute. But that aside: what evidence?

            “The only other explanation is that literally hundreds of well known organisations are corrupt and are colluding in a conspiracy of colossal proportions.” I’m afraid not. “Conventional wisdom”, in science as in other fields, is often very strong. To demur from the climate science orthodoxy is to risk ostracism. I have seen this in action, although I have not been unfortunate enough to suffer personally – my general field is somewhat remote from climate science, and my particular specialism almost completely so.

          • I get it – you’re a scientist of some sort. My own specialism was particle physics also remote from climate science, although I do know some meteorologists.

            My experience in science is that if there are flaws in your work they will soon be pointed out. The peer review system isn’t flawless, but it is inconceivable that so many people in so many diverse fields could be so wrong. The simple explanation is that they are right.

          • So you’re working with N-Rays then (with your 48 chromosomes) ?

            It’s more complex than that. To get funding and support you have to support climate change ; thus people see what they want to see. There’s a degree of Lysenkoism involved ; how much is arguable, but it is not none.

          • Tell that to the inquisition.

            The questionnaire that created the narrarive ‘97% of scientists’ was slanted to only include scientists that sufficiently accepted the premise of man made global warming.

            Unfortunately the lure of cash for research, a new carbon tax for Governments and an entire industry dedicated to receiving massive subsidies for windmills and solar/battery powered things cannot now give up their lifestyles.

          • We did. All of us paid who use energy and are continuing to pay for the scam. Global warming is just another kind of world war in which the population are propagandised to accept a doctrine for which they are forced to pay. It’s just another wealth transfer scam. Wake up and smell the money. The same people who are cashing in live in luxury, they travel the world by private jet payed for by the rest of us. The Catholic Church pulled the same scam for centuries and still does so. It relies on the stupid masses for whom religion is their heroin. In this case the religion is ‘environmentalism’ and my how the idiots worship it.

          • One of the particular scandals in climate science is the corruption of the peer review system. Climategate was a real eye-opener to me. As an honest man I was utterly astonished at the corruption. Perhaps I was naive, in those days.

            My own experience of peer reviewing is that quite a lot of poor science gets published, especially if its from a well-known organisation.

          • Yes, I remember that as well. Apparently the Ice Ages were coming back RSN.

            I also went on honeymoon to the Maldives 26 years ago. Then they were saying they would be underwater in 15 years due to the sea rising.

            Still waiting.

          • Climate is always changing. Is the man made Co2 increase sufficient to cause this change ? Its unlikely, because man wasn’t around when the climate changed fundamentally from a fully glaciated snowball to a tropical paradise with elevated Co2 in which plants/dinosaurs thrived. In fact it is more likely than elevated Co2 is a result of climate change as we know the greatest global heater is that big old fireball and water vapour, not Co2.

            That’s not to say man isn’t contributing to some very minor acceleration – let the scientists determine it. However, we can do little to nothing to curtail our meagre output anyway so we really don’t need to fund it with tax payer coin. Neither should we be creating carbon taxes which essentially tax human life for the sin of living.

          • Remember that the threat of man made global warming has pushed renewable energy along in leaps and bounds, and to many, I believe, the ends, be they the truth or lies, justifies the means.

          • But at what cost and to whom ? Had the market decided that energy was too expensive, or dangerously polluting, then the market would have found an alternative.

            Instead, what we have is mal-investment. The state has forced a type of energy production that is sub-optimal. It’s is sub-optimal because it costs more and hence is less useful to a larger proportion of people than carbon fuels. It must be clearly understood that energy, or any good, available to more people at a lower price, is what the market is about and not making a few people wealthy off the back of those who can least afford it-which is a government granted monopoly/cartel and is injurious to the majority.

            This is why these monopolists and their Government sponsors must continually frighten the population, or make them feel guilty for enjoying a wealthy western lifestyle. The Church got fat and wealthy doing exactly the same thing. It promised redemption and an afterlife for giving up comforts here on earth which its authorities judged sinful. Meanwhile the church was taking in the takings from this guilt complex it had imposed on its congregation. It’s the oldest trick in the book. The moment man made fire/wheel, there was someone figuring out how he could get that fire for himself-the easiest method is to make a man feel guilty for having that fire/wheel all to himself and to make those around him condemn him for his selfishness.

          • Your faith in the market is misguided.
            The market would never decide that energy was too polluting in time to take useful action.
            Renewable energy costs are reducing dramatically which will ultimately justify the subsidies.
            You are on the wrong side of history.

          • Again, I don’t know what you mean by ‘faith’ in the market. The market, such that it is in these days of state cronyism, is men making voluntary judgements on the value of goods for exchange. It is an aggregate of all such exchanges and is therefore acts in a way to allocate resources, innovate and alter production that it isn’t possible to improve upon.

            The use of the phrase ‘renewable energy’ does not alter the fact that man must first produce, then maintain the devices which he creates. The renewable energy is less abundant than carbon fuels from that stand point and without subsidies and tax penalties it could never have existed.

            Nothing can justify subsidies. I don’t even need to make the economic argument against such foolishness-though it’s an easy one to make-because subsidies are a wealth transfer. They are the theft of production from one group to be distributed to another. It is plain theft. No crime has been comitted by the group who has been penalised by that theft-the people who can least afford to be robbed are viciously mugged by the state in broad daylight. Nothing justifies theft, your parents should have told you that a long time ago.

          • That you don’t recognise your own point is at least consistent with a blindness to reason and context.
            You see, the debate is far broader than simple economic consideration, and sometimes the ends justify the means.
            Oh and don’t run away with the idea that fossil fuels are not subsidised.

          • “The ends justify the means”

            For who ? To whom ? At what cost and who pays that bill ?

            That has been the cry of every totalitarian regime since the human race began. “Might makes right”. That people will be forced to see reason by bashing in their skulls.

            As far as I’m aware fossil fuels are not subsidised. Indeed the energy user makes tax payments on all their use of fossil fuel energy to subsidise the green rubbish. Britain has all but closed down its coal/oil powered generation and we have few working coal mines. Aberdeen and North Sea oil have seen a massive retreat in exploration as oil plunged below $60 a barrel and we pay something like 80% tax on petrol usage.

            Oil isn’t below $60 because of subsidies, but because the world has a surfeit of oil and gas and no one to buy it. Despite the best efforts by OPEC to restrict supply oil has been at this price for over two years. The Saudi government can no longer afford its enormous welfare program and is having to consider diversifying its economy to cope.

          • The church said the same to Galileo. Your climate religion -the sin of man using energy-your hatred for the good, for man, for mans life, is causing you great pain. I suggest you either stop burning heretics or jump into the flames yourself.

          • Oh I am. Man requires energy to live and thrive. The more energy he can get the better for him. This is an immediate requirement. If the world warms he can turn on air conditioning. If sea rises he can build barriers, raise land height, install powerful pumps, or rebuild on higher ground. It is energy which is of primary importance not global warming which we can do nothing to alter.

          • The historic record shows that our climate is changing at a rate unprecedented in hundreds of thousands of years.

            No it doesn’t. In the 20th century there were a couple of earlier periods where warming took place at a rate similar to the rate in the last part of the twentieth century and first few years of this century.

          • Sorry Roy but you’re wrong and there are about a quadrillion references I could post. But lets just leave it at wrong old chap.

      • An interesting story I happened across the other day, but unlikely to make it anywhere close to the mainstream press, was of a researcher using the NASA observatory photographs from the Hubbel telescope. As it happened he discovered an identical photograph from the telescope that is stationed aboard a 747 jet and asked NASA to comment. He had at first concluded it was just a mix up, but NASA confirmed that it was definitely from Hubble.

        In the intervening months the researcher discovered several more photographs which were identical and labelled from the two seperate telescopes. In an attempt to get to the bottom of the conflict the researchers happened across the astronomer that took the photographs. He confirmed they were taken from the 747 and not Hubbel and couldn’t understand why NASA had confirmed something different.

        Then, if anyone is interested, one may investigate certain aspects of astronautic live feeds from the ISS in which there is explicit video manipulation being used in a virtual environment-to the point of view of harnesses and guide wires being exposed accidentally.

        The conclusion is that much of what NASA actually does has been falsified to give an impression of expensive work which requires enormous funding. The same occurs in pharma research where the researchers will advertise a closeness to success when they are actually no where close to a breakthrough in order to continue funding.

        It’s time tax payer funding was withdrawn from scientific research and exploration.

  2. I was listening to Shelagh Fogarty on LBC yesterday discussing this.. She inhabits a fantasy world she actually believes debate is encouraged at universities.
    During my son’s recent time doing his English degree, six of the fifteen tutors he encountered were self proclaimed Marxists. One tutor picked my son up once when he described Marxism as an ‘ideology’. He was told quite firmly “Marxism is a science not an ideology”.
    Once after a tutorial a tutor chased him down a corridor to ask for for an explanation as to why he had commented that he did note rate Owen Jones. I can give lots more examples.
    So how come so much politics is was discussed on an English literature course? Its the reading list. The books picked had a strong left wing and political slant. Eventually it became impossible not to discuss politics.
    Happy to send the honours course reading list into TCW if you want to see it.

    • One of my best friends is PVC Admin of a British University and is a professor of history. After being exposed to a fair number over the years through him, I have found him likely the most conservative of them (and yes, Conservative, as well). Still, this man, sound on almost everything was a reminder, albeit a bit wishy-washy. I doubt there are hardly any to the right of him, or fairer to those who disagree, for that matter. We had some fairly heated debates before the referendum.

    • I suppose it is a science as its a branch of philosophy, as is all economics and politics. The point is, is it good science, or bad science; does it make logical sense, or is it flawed BS ? That’s a rhetorical question of course, anyone with half a brain would long since have comitted Marxs treatise to the dustbin, or at best left it on the shelf labelled – failed and thoroughly debunked theories.

    • Your son could have asked the tutor who said “Marxism is a science not an ideology” what he thought about Karl Popper, one of the greatest philosophers of Marxism. Popper had briefly been a Marxist himself in his youth but soon turned against it and became a great opponent of what he regarded as the pseudo-science of Marxism.

    • A tutor demanded that your son provide reasons why he does not rate Owen Jones? I hope that tutor had several hours to spare.

    • With respect to your good son, that tale illustrates why fewer people should be reading English and instead tranfer into the Sciences. English is widely accepted as a qualification for entering journalism and thus explains the left wing bias of the media and their apparent lack of a broad knowledge base (again apologies to your son and other wiser English students) and, frequently, their inability to think laterally.

      • Fair points.
        For a long time he wanted to do a PHD. he was so disheartened by the lack of diversity of thought and opinion that after his honours he gave up the PHd aspiration and now is keen just to get into full time work.
        What was interesting is that girls outnumbered boys 2-1 on his course and yet the those getting first (like my son) were split evenly between the genders.

  3. Not to mention the inevitable screams from academia about the terrors of leaving the EU and its joint academic programmes with other European countries- for which one might well read ‘EU academic welfare scheme’.

    In the end it invariably comes down to money. The EU wants cash from UK tax payers, the universities are recipients of that cash. For all the lefty academics crying over unity, economics, security and workers rights for the country as a whole, in fact they are really only talking from their own self interested narrow view.

  4. I see this slightly differently. What was an innocuous letter provoked a wholly disproportionate response, because I believe the universities had been caught red handed, inflagrante delicto, fingers in the till, they were shocked and reacted as you would expect many older naughty kids to react with a counter accusation and a complete denial of guilt.

    It is however their very reaction which damns them!

  5. No one is impartial. We all have beliefs that frame how we see the world. In an open democratic society that is considered healthy. There is good evidence that support for remain was high among young people and high among graduates. Live with it and stop whining.

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