Fewer early career researchers heading to UK from European Union

Warning that trend has much wider implications for the UK system than missing individual expertise  

三月 30, 2022
A cleaner at work in an empty Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport to illustrate Fewer early career researchers heading to UK from European Union
Source: Getty

A drop in the proportion of staff entering UK academia from the European Union is becoming a “steady pattern” that – together with the slump in continental student demand – has implications for the country’s research and academic excellence, it has been warned.

According to the latest data on staff working in UK universities, the share who were EU citizens fell for the first time in 2020-21 after at least 15 years of growth.

Although the drop was very slight, from 12.73 per cent to 12.69 per cent, data on the proportion of EU staff by age band suggest a definite trend for fewer younger academics to enter the system: the proportion of staff in their thirties from the EU has fallen for the fourth year in succession.

In 2020-21, 17.3 per cent of full-time equivalent staff aged 31 to 35 were EU citizens, down from 19 per cent in 2016-17, while the share for 36- to 40-year-olds was 17 per cent, down from 17.6 per cent four years earlier.

At the same time, the proportion of older staff from the EU has continued to grow, suggesting that those who are “much less flexible in moving than those at the beginning of [their] career” have remained in the UK system, said Giulio Marini, a lecturer in the UCL Institute of Education’s Social Research Institute, who has been tracking the data and shared the latest figures with Times Higher Education.

“I understand this is becoming a steady pattern,” he told THE, with “fewer people entering the system” in the early part of their career, but with EU staff who may have joined UK universities as early career researchers before 2016 staying in the country and now appearing in older age bands in the data.

Dr Marini said he had also seen more detailed data that suggested that staff from countries from central or eastern Europe appeared to have been more “resilient” to a possible Brexit effect.

“More precisely, Romanian, Bulgarian, Slovakian, Croatian and Hungarian [staff] increased in absolute numbers in 2020-21 against the previous year,” he said. “This is important to note because there could be an effect of still much poorer working conditions in these mentioned countries.”

However, the staff nationalities that declined most in the past academic year were mainly from western European countries such as Germany, France, the Netherlands and Italy.

Vassiliki Papatsiba, director of the Centre for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Sheffield, said the apparent downward trend in early career academics from the EU was concerning given the multiple benefits they brought to the system.

Dr Papatsiba said previous research she had worked on had highlighted how EU staff not only brought individual expertise and helped to win EU research grants, but they also improved networking with universities across the continent and helped to make the UK an attractive destination for students.

“What Brexit has done is limit the flow of academic and research talent in the form of EU ECRs or students, and this has implications for both research and academic excellence as well as [the] knowledge and research diplomacy that is contingent on a country’s and sector’s attractiveness,” she said.




  • 注册是免费的,而且十分便捷
  • 注册成功后,您每月可免费阅读3篇文章
  • 订阅我们的邮件
Please 登录 or 注册 to read this article.

Reader's comments (2)

I'm concerned about deteriorating working conditions in UK academia. Unfortunately we need to see this kind of evidence that's it's affecting the UK's appeal as a place to work, in order to be able to make a case that we have a genuine problem that needs to be fixed.
One other thing: I'm really surprised that only about 15% of UK-based academics are EU nationals - I would have guessed much higher, about 50%.