Leaving the European Union would be damaging to the UK's universities, higher education chiefs have warned.

Membership of the EU is "central" to the success of the nation's higher education system, university leaders said.

In a letter to The Times newspaper, they argued that without a say in developing EU policy, the UK would lose its ability to influence policies that affect research and higher education.

The letter is signed by the president of vice-chancellors' group Universities UK (UUK) Professor Sir Christopher Snowden, who is also vice-chancellor of Surrey University, and members of the UUK board.

It says: "Britain's universities are national assets which contribute £73 billion to the economy and they drive innovation and growth.

"The UK's membership of the European Union is central to that success and to universities' positive impact on the economy and society."

More than a billion pounds in European funding is given to research done at UK universities each year, the letter says, which supports research projects that can help to solve social and economic challenges "in a way that no country acting alone could do".

At the same time, EU programmes allow researchers, staff and students to study and work overseas, the letter adds.

It warns: "Without an influential voice in the development of EU policy, the UK would lose its ability to influence policy affecting research and higher education."

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