Many academics are not accepting offers for UK university jobs until they know the result of next month’s European Union referendum, the president of Universities UK has warned.
Dame Julia Goodfellow, vice-chancellor of the University of Kent, said her institution had been told by several successful applicants from continental Europe that they wanted to know that the UK would remain in the EU before taking up a post.
“We offered one person a job, but he said he wanted to wait until after the referendum before making a decision on accepting,” said Dame Julia in an interview with Times Higher Education.
Young scientists and other early career academics from EU countries had been particularly affected by the uncertainty around the referendum, as they were making decisions about where their careers and families would be based in the medium term, Dame Julia explained.
These highly skilled academics would face years of uncertainty while negotiations over their status in the UK took place if the country voted to leave the EU, she said.
“Some postdocs and researchers from European research organisations will not come because this is a very critical time in their career,” Dame Julia said, suggesting that they would opt for countries where their long-term future was more assured.
Her own university would be particularly affected by a Brexit vote, as some 22 per cent of its academic staff are non-British, she said.
In a keynote speech at the Universities Human Resources’ annual conference, which was held in Brighton from 17 to 20 May, Dame Julia said universities had been especially quick to support UUK’s Universities for Europe campaign.
Referring to a UUK letter extolling the benefits of the EU to academia, which was published in The Sunday Times on 21 February, Dame Julia told an audience on 18 May that “103 vice-chancellors agreed to sign the letter within three hours of it going out”.
She explained that universities are now ramping up their efforts to ensure that students are registered to vote by 7 June, ahead of the 23 June referendum.
“The June 23 polling day is just the wrong time for students as it is happening around Glastonbury,” said Dame Julia. “Lots of them are now just finishing exams and only just realising they need to register to vote.”