A UK university has cited Brexit as a cause of a major cost-cutting and redundancy programme, sparking fears that it might be the first of many.
Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh said that it was aiming to save the equivalent of 6 per cent of its income over the next two years, about £14 million.
While the senior leadership had agreed not to take any pay rises or bonuses this year, it would also be necessary to introduce a voluntary redundancy scheme with a view to cutting “approximately 100” jobs, the institution said.
Richard Williams, Heriot-Watt’s principal and vice-chancellor, said that “a number of factors – both at home and abroad – [were] coming together this year”.
A university statement cited a “Brexit effect”, which had “creat[ed] uncertainty affecting postgraduate uptake”, as well as “the UK government’s immigration policies and messaging”.
Other negative factors included “a shortfall in overseas fee-paying students due to a world-wide economic downturn” and “a decline in the success rates” for European Union research grants.
Heriot-Watt described many of the pressures pushing it to make cuts as “UK-wide”, prompting speculation that other universities might follow suit in ordering savings and redundancies.
“Brexit is clearly generating uncertainty for our universities,” said Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union. “We have already seen a drop in EU student applications and reports of experienced staff considering leaving the sector to work elsewhere.”
But given that “we don’t yet know what the long-term impact will be”, she urged universities not to “rush into decisions about the future that could result in losing valuable expertise”.
“As the UK negotiates its withdrawal from the EU, the government must make it a priority to provide funding certainty to universities and challenge any negative rhetoric on immigration that suggests to the world that our universities are not open for business,” Ms Hunt added.
Heriot-Watt has one of the UK’s highest proportions of EU students among its taught postgraduate cohort, with 22.3 per cent coming from continental Europe. Scottish institutions appear to be particularly exposed to any instability in recruitment, with both Edinburgh Napier University and the University of St Andrews reporting figures of about 30 per cent for the same cohort.