European researchers ‘losing interest’ in UK university jobs

Headhunters and scientists have reported waning interest in UK research roles, citing high cost of visas and healthcare as a key deterrent

June 9, 2021
Birdwatchers use binoculars to observe birds from the top of Tower 42, London, illustrating UK institutions seeking to hire EU professors and postdocs
Source: Getty

UK universities could struggle to fill key professorial and postdoctoral researcher roles amid growing frustration from European academics at Brexit-related bureaucracy and costs, Times Higher Education has been told.

Since the end of the Brexit transition period in January, European Union nationals have been subject to the same immigration rules as those from the rest of the world, requiring them to apply for visas to work in the UK.

While the cost for a three- or five-year visa is just £55 for EU academics or researchers with a job offer under the fast-track Global Talent route, they and every family member are required to pay an annual health surcharge of £625, with family members charged £608 each in visa costs – presenting a total cost of about £14,500 (€16,900) for a family of four applying for a five-year visa.

Those costs, as well as the effort required to fill out visa-related paperwork, have led several senior researchers based in EU universities to rebuff any attempts to bring them to the UK, explained Ed Pritchard, managing partner at Anderson Quigley, an executive search firm used by Russell Group universities to fill research professor roles in strategically important fields, such as artificial intelligence.

“The reality is that, since Brexit, engagement with EU academics has dwindled,” explained Mr Pritchard, who said that a recent search for a professor in machine learning on behalf of a UK university illustrated the problem facing UK science.

“We made 100 approaches to suitable candidates, and 20 came back immediately to say Brexit was a reason that they wouldn’t consider the job,” he said.

Recruiting promising mid-stage career academics had been difficult, he added. “If you are a successful early career researcher in your mid-30s to early 40s and want to bring over a family of four that could be tricky because you haven’t been earning huge amounts,” said Mr Pritchard.

“Universities will pay for the visas of the academic, and others are offering interest-free loans to cover family costs, but it is still a cost and a barrier to hiring that other EU universities don’t face,” he said.

Several research leaders have told THE that since January it has been harder to recruit suitable candidates from Europe for postdoc positions. According to Home Office figures, just 46 EU citizens applied under the Global Talent route in the first three months of 2021, excluding dependants, with 12 applications coming from Italy and eight from Germany.

Some 55 applications were made from India, 77 from the US and Canada and 35 from Africa in that quarter, figures show.

David Bogle, pro vice-provost and chair of UCL’s doctoral school, said that national figures on postdoc applications were difficult to obtain but he was unsurprised by the reports.

“Nationally, we have seen a drop in job applications from the EU since the Brexit vote, [and] some academics have also left saying there is a feeling that they are not wanted here,” he said.

“I do worry about this situation, as we need this top talent. It’s not so much the visa costs that will deter applicants but the NHS charges, which are not a one-off,” he added.


Print headline: Brexit red tape impeding hiring of EU scholars

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Reader's comments (7)

Brexit has damaged the UK's universities substantially (not to mention the UK as a place to live and work as a whole), and many British academics I know want to leave themselves. There is a brain drain gathering pace.
So more British people can be offered these jobs who, having gone through our expensive education system will be better qualified. Why does anyone think anything other could be the case. Or have students just been let down by researchers not teachers delivering their education. Discuss
Two assumptions here: 1. For every non-British staff there are x British staff left out without a position. 2. The more expensive education system in the UK provides better qualifications that other countries' education systems. Discuss.
Perhaps smart British people looking for a job will prefer to emigrate to a more civilized place that welcomes talent (no matter where it comes from). Analyse.
Are there any figures about how many British academics have taken posts at EU universities? The UK government is clearly making a fool of itself by over-expensive and over-complicated visa arrangements. Just as they are expecting EU citizens already living here legally to re-register... why? There's no rhyme or reason to it.
Surprise, Surprise ... Here is an article I wrote in THE nearly 5 years ago.
REF, TEF, KEF and servings of other alphabet soups are likely to make the UK HE more attractive. Not!