More European staff leaving UK for universities abroad post-Brexit

Many EU academics also now likely to choose ‘simpler option’ of staying in bloc even after trade agreement, expert warns 

May 26, 2021
Silhouette of crowd walking towards stairs as a metaphor for more European staff leaving UK for universities abroad post-Brexit
Source: Getty

Almost double the number of European Union academics left the UK for a job in a university abroad in 2019 than before the Brexit referendum, according to the latest available data.

The breakdown of figures on staff leaving higher education in the UK, from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, shows that more than 600 EU academics went to work in an institution overseas in the year to December 2019.

This was almost half of all staff known to have left the country for a role in a university abroad that year, compared with the year before the Brexit vote, 2015, when 340 EU academics moved to an overseas institution, or 37 per cent of the total.

Overall, 1,120 EU academics were known to have left the UK for a job or to study abroad in 2019, a figure that was almost 70 per cent higher than in 2015.

And more than a fifth of the 32,000 academics who left UK higher education in 2019 for any reason – including those going to a non-university job in the UK and the large number where a reason for the departure was unknown – were EU academics. This was higher than the proportion of academic staff from the EU in 2019-20, which was about 17 per cent, according to separate Hesa data.

Giulio Marini, a lecturer in the UCL Institute of Education’s Social Research Institute, who has been tracking university staff trends in recent years, said he could not see any other reason than Brexit for “such a sharp inversion of the trend”.

He said another trend that could be Brexit-related was evidence of a “cohort effect” where older academics aged 40 or over were staying in the system but there was a fall in the number of younger EU academics joining.

Dr Marini said that this could continue despite the decisions that have now created more certainty around Brexit, such as the UK’s official withdrawal from the EU in January last year and the subsequent trade agreement in December.

“I guess many EU nationals want to skip any problem in relation to Brexit, including that of feeling unwelcome, coping with paperwork, being charged more heavily in taxation, etc,” he said. “For any EU citizen, any other EU country will be a much simpler option.”

Dr Marini said that given the UK would still need to attract academics from abroad, he envisaged that the share of overseas staff from outside the EU would continue to grow over time.

However, he added that the country would need a strategy that did not just concentrate on the very best academics.

The UK’s main post-Brexit visa aimed at researchers, the Global Talent visa, has been marketed as a route for staff of the highest quality. For instance, it was announced earlier this month that academics holding prizes such as a Nobel would be able to bypass an endorsement requirement that would normally be needed for the visa.

“The best ‘diet’ in my opinion would be to allow whoever successfully matches the vacancies to join the system – not just thinking of exceptional talents,” Dr Marini said, adding that focusing on attracting overseas researchers at doctoral level who then stay in the system would be another good approach.

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Reader's comments (1)

So Global Britain thinks it can replace this brain haemorrhage who have been put off this sinking pit with a queue of Nobel prize laureates. Fair play lads, the weed gets better every day.