A British government-commissioned survey that asked non-UK European Union academics if they were considering a “move back home” after Brexit has been criticised for sending a hostile message to international staff living in the country.
In an online poll currently running on behalf of the Department for Education, non-UK EU nationals working in UK higher education are asked how the UK’s eventual withdrawal from the EU would “personally” affect them.
The answers available include “I am considering a move back home” and “I would now consider moving back home if work prospects were better there”.
The survey, run by the Institute for Employment Studies, an independent research consultancy, has been condemned as insensitive by an Austrian academic who has worked and lived in the UK for the past 14 years because it suggests that “EU citizens do not fully belong in Britain”.
Veronika Koller, reader in discourse studies at Lancaster University, said that she was “particularly annoyed” to be asked if she wanted to “move back home” after the UK’s planned withdrawal in March 2019.
“It is parochial, and quite out of touch with the higher education sector, to think of ‘home’ as only the place where someone was born and brought up,” said Dr Koller, a linguist who was born in Austria and grew up in Germany.
By suggesting that EU citizens “did not belong in Britain”, the question was a “micro-aggression” against non-UK EU university staff, she argued.
Dr Koller’s complaint follows criticism of a speech by Theresa May on 19 November in which she said that EU workers would no longer be able to “jump the queue” after Brexit.
She added that she was “uneasy” about filling out the questionnaire – which anyone may complete and does not use email verification – because she “didn’t know what the purpose of the survey is”.
“Is it to gauge how many EU citizens the sector could potentially lose and to look at how to prevent that? Or is it to make a point about how many could leave and make space for British employees?” she said.
“After two and a half years of uncertainty and conflicting messages, I don’t know any more what is justified optimism or naivety, justified pessimism or paranoia.”