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The number of academics from other parts of the European Union employed by UK universities increased rather than fell back at most institutions in the year after the vote for Brexit, new figures show.
According to the latest Higher Education Statistics Agency data, analysed by Times Higher Education, the number of EU academics fell at just 18 UK institutions in the 2016-17 academic year, with most of those being very small falls.
There had been fears that uncertainty over the rights of EU citizens working in the UK, which only reached some clarity in December after an initial agreement between the UK and EU, might persuade some academics to leave the UK.
However, the new Hesa data suggest that in the case of most universities there does not appear to have been an immediate exodus of staff. Only at two institutions did EU staff numbers fall back by more than 50 in the year to 2016-17: the University of Oxford (55) and the University of Kent (70).
Last year, THE highlighted how many of the universities that were potentially most vulnerable to a sudden departure of EU academics were in the Russell Group. At eight members of the group, a quarter of all academics were from other EU nations in 2015-16.
This still held true in 2016-17 and all eight of those universities actually increased their share of academics from other parts of the EU. At the institution with the highest share of other EU academics, the London School of Economics, 38 per cent now come from other parts of the bloc, a rise of one percentage point.
Hollie Chandler, senior policy analyst at the Russell Group, said that the latest Hesa data suggested that messages urging staff from other parts of the EU not to “panic” in the aftermath of the Brexit vote had been heeded.
“However, it would be a mistake for these figures to breed complacency: we hear from faculties around the country that EU staff and students feel anxious about their future here. They deserve certainty, without delay,” she said.
Dr Chandler said the next step should be for the relevant sections of the UK-EU withdrawal agreement that cover citizens’ rights to be “incorporated into UK legislation as soon as possible to provide the necessary legal certainty for EU staff and students currently in the UK and for those who will arrive before the end of the transition period”.
The UK is set to leave the EU on 29 March next year, after which there will be a 20-month transition period when free movement of citizens between the UK and EU will in effect continue.
However, EU workers arriving during the transition may not be entitled to exactly the same rights as those who came before. There have been suggestions that the UK may seek a longer transition period, possibly lasting up to 2023, to allow time to reach an agreement on trade.