Which subjects at UK universities rely most on EU academics?

As negotiations continue on the future for EU citizens working in the UK after Brexit, these are the subjects that currently have the most international staff 

August 14, 2017
Brexit from the EU

Universities in the UK have stepped up their lobbying of the government over Brexit as crucial negotiations take place about the future status of European Union citizens working in the country.

For instance, the Russell Group of research heavyweights recently spelt out 10 points where “greater clarity” is needed about the UK government’s position over the future status of EU nationals to ease the uncertainty for both students and staff.

Times Higher Education previously highlighted how universities from the group were vulnerable to any potential “brain drain” of academic talent from the EU in the wake of the UK’s vote to leave, with more than a quarter of staff at some institutions being citizens of other EU countries.

However, it is also particular subjects that stand to be damaged in terms of academic expertise if there was any mass decision to leave the UK by such scholars.

According to the latest data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, in 2015-16 it was, perhaps unsurprisingly, modern languages that employed the highest share of staff – 36.4 per cent – from other EU countries as a percentage of all academics. This was closely followed by economics and econometrics, where 35.6 per cent were EU citizens from outside the UK.


In its latest HE Workforce Survey published on 31 July, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association also points out that as well as modern languages and economics, institutions are “highly reliant” on international staff – both from the EU and elsewhere – in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects. There are now four subject areas where a majority of staff are international (economics, chemical engineering, area studies and modern languages), it adds.


10 subjects areas with most international staff

Ucea’s report says UK universities' reliance on international staff in STEM subjects is likely to continue because recent figures show 72.5 per cent of full-time taught postgraduates and 53.2 per cent of full-time postgraduate research students studying STEM subjects in England came from outside the UK.

Universities are less reliant on international staff for professional services. According to Hesa data for 2015-16, the highest share of staff with non-UK citizenship was in “elementary occupations” at 14.9 per cent while just 5.6 per cent of managers, directors and senior officials were from different countries.


Professional services staff breakdown by non-UK nationality



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