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The particular risks that Brexit poses to higher education are by now well known, with potential damage to research funding and a loss of academic talent being two of the main concerns.
Now, in a report to mark 500 days until the UK is due to leave the European Union, the British Academy has highlighted how the social sciences and humanities may be even more vulnerable than science-based disciplines in terms of these risks.
According to the report – Brexit means…? The British Academy’s Priorities for the Humanities and Social Sciences in the Current Negotiations – of the 15 disciplines with the highest proportion of their research funding from “EU government bodies”, 13 are in the arts, humanities and social sciences.
The report adds that UK-based humanities and social science researchers have won more than a third of all funding for these subjects granted by the European Research Council, compared with the life sciences and physical sciences, which have won less than 20 per cent of ERC money.
Archaeology, which has the highest proportion of its overall research income coming from EU government bodies out of any discipline in the UK, has seen the volume of funding from this source go up 10-fold since 2006-07, the report says.
“This achievement illustrates the adaptability and excellence of researchers in archaeology to successfully compete for funding from the EU whilst UK funding has declined. In fact, since 2013-2014 archaeology has been receiving more funding from ‘EU government bodies’ sources than from UK government sources.”
In absolute funding terms, it is business and management studies that wins the most funding of all social science and humanities subjects from EU government sources (£14.8 million), but archaeology is third with £8.7 million, just behind geography and environmental studies (£10.9 million), according to the report.
But the British Academy report also draws attention to how some regions of the UK stand to be disproportionately affected in certain subjects if there is any brain drain of talent due to the outcome of the Brexit process.
In the West Midlands for instance, almost half of all academics working in modern languages are from other EU countries, while two other areas – Northern Ireland and the South West of England – also have shares above 40 per cent. Meanwhile, for economics and econometrics it is London that has the highest proportion of staff from elsewhere in the EU at 46 per cent, followed by the South West (45 per cent).
The report says that the figures show “how embedded a diverse academic workforce is in the UK and they exemplify the attractiveness of UK humanities and social sciences to researchers from all over the world and particularly the EU.
“Disruption to this appeal and to the ability of the UK to retain and attract scholars in the humanities and social sciences is a threat to the continued excellence of the UK in these disciplines as competitors look to offer opportunities to world-leading academics of this generation and the next who are currently based in the UK.”