Jump in EU academics leaving UK after Brexit referendum

Previously unseen data emerge as survey reveals universities’ anxiety over recruitment and retention

October 17, 2019
Woman walking past UK and EU flags
Source: Getty

The number of European Union academics leaving the UK for a job in an overseas university climbed by almost half after the Brexit referendum, Times Higher Education can reveal.

According to previously unseen Higher Education Statistics Agency figures on the outflow of staff from the UK by nationality, about 500 academics from other EU countries moved to a job at a university abroad in the year to December 2017, up from 340 in the year before the Brexit vote.

In comparison, the number of non-EU academics leaving the UK for a university post overseas went up by just 15 per cent over the same period.

There was also a 43 per cent increase in the number of EU academics leaving UK academia for work or study overseas, a rise that was more than twice as high as that for non-EU nationals.



Although the number of academics leaving UK universities has been rising in line with general staff numbers, the data suggest that there has been a different trend for scholars from the rest of the EU.

Such academics made up almost half (46 per cent) of those quitting UK higher education to work or study overseas in the year to December 2017, an increase of six percentage points compared with the year to December 2015. For non-EU academics, this share fell slightly over the same period.

Meanwhile, a survey of 87 higher education institutions by the Universities and Colleges Employers Association has found that 26 per cent of respondents felt that Brexit-related uncertainty had had at least a moderate impact on staff retention over the past 12 months, with 23 per cent reporting at least a moderate effect on recruitment.

Few institutions reported a significant impact to date, but there was more widespread anxiety for the future: one in four institutions reported a high or medium-high level of concern over their ability to recruit and retain EU staff over the next 12 months, with the majority indicating at least a moderate level of concern.

Giulio Marini, a research associate at the UCL Institute of Education, said the overall picture was still one of growth in the number of scholars from the rest of the EU working in the UK.

Hesa data show that in 2017-18 there were 37,255 academics from other EU countries at UK universities, up from 35,920 the year before and representing a rising share (17.6 per cent) of all academic staff.

Dr Marini said this suggested that academics from the rest of the EU were still taking up posts in the UK in large numbers even if more were leaving, although it was not clear how many new joiners were recent PhD graduates already in the UK.

His research suggests that the main effect of the Brexit vote has been EU academics in some science subjects not taking up posts because of the “uncertainty” over the UK’s access to EU research infrastructure and funding.

“In some aspects, the delay to the exit from the EU is the problem,” Dr Marini said.

In the longer term, Dr Marini said, there could still be a major shift in the pattern of EU academics working in the UK, depending on future access to research funding, immigration rules and access to state services such as healthcare.

simon.baker@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Number of EU scholars leaving UK after Brexit vote shot up

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