Russell Group universities ‘vulnerable’ to Brexit brain drain

Hesa figures show EU nationals make up more than a quarter of all academics at a third of mission group’s members

May 7, 2017
Brexit, EU referendum
Source: iStock

Some of the UK’s most prestigious research-intensive universities are particularly vulnerable if Brexit prompts scholars from the European Union to leave the country, new data reveal.

EU nationals made up more than a quarter of all academics at a third of Russell Group universities in 2015-16, according to previously unpublished figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency released to Times Higher Education.

The statistics also show that the proportion of EU academics was higher than the UK average at all but three of the mission group’s 24 members.

The eight Russell Group institutions where the proportion of EU scholars was above 25 per cent were concentrated in London and the South East of England: for instance, EU nationals make up 38 per cent of all staff at the London School of Economics, 32 per cent at Imperial College London and 29 per cent at King’s College London. The universities of Cambridge (27 per cent) and Oxford (26 per cent) also had a high proportion of their academics hailing from other EU countries.


Russell Group academic staff in 2015-16
Hesa. Analysis by THE.


Hesa. Analysis by THE.

It comes after a report by MPs on the House of Commons Education Committee warned that the next UK government needed to take swift action to bring in a “more liberal” visa regime to ensure that Brexit did not harm the country’s universities by leading to a brain drain of EU academics.

Jessica Cole, head of policy at the Russell Group, said the new figures showed clearly how academics from across Europe made “a significant contribution” to its universities and that “we rely on their talent to remain globally competitive”.

“In particular they help support the excellence of the UK research base and teaching in key subjects vital to the UK economy, such as [science, technology, engineering and maths] and modern languages,” she said.

“That is why we are asking the government to confirm as soon as possible the continued working rights for current EU staff and their dependants. In the longer term, we want to ensure our universities can continue to recruit the talented staff they need from all over the world without overly burdensome visa requirements.”

Figures detailed in the Education Committee’s report show that the overall number of EU staff working at UK universities has increased by 10,000 over the past six years.

This is borne out by a THE analysis of the Hesa academic staff figures for nationality going back to 2012-13.

That shows that EU academic staff numbers rose by about 7,600, or 29 per cent, over the three years to 2015-16 to represent an overall proportion of 17 per cent of all UK scholars. That percentage was 14.4 per cent in 2012-13.

Several institutions saw an increase in EU academic staff numbers of more than 50 per cent during that time.  


10 universities with highest % increase in EU academic staff, 2012-13 to 2015-16
Hesa. Analysis by THE.

Note: Only includes universities with at least 50 EU academics in 2012-13


% of EU academic staff: all UK universities
Hesa. Analysis by THE.

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