Survey finds wide variation in UK university support for EU staff

Several institutions refusing to pay settlement fees for employees or their families

December 20, 2018
EU flags outside the Houses of Parliament
Source: iStock

UK universities are under growing pressure to improve their support for European Union staff ahead of Brexit, as a Times Higher Education survey reveals wide variation in institutional policies.

A government pilot scheme running through November and December has allowed EU university staff to apply for settled status in return for a fee of £65 per person. Their families will be able to apply when the scheme opens fully next year.

Several leading institutions, including the universities of Oxford and Nottingham, have publicly announced that they will pay the settlement fees for staff and their dependants too.

A THE survey of the 50 UK universities with the largest populations of non-UK EU employees, however, reveals much greater variation in support for staff.

Six universities said that they would not cover the fees for staff or their families, while a further 20 said that they would cover the costs for employees, but not their dependants. Twelve were unable to confirm their position when asked by THE.

Just 11 of the 50 said that they would cover the pre-application cost for both staff and family members, meaning that academics and higher education professionals face significantly different levels of exposure to settlement fees, depending on where they work.

Axel Antoni, a spokesman for the3million, a campaign group of EU citizens working in the UK, said that the act of paying settled status fees “can play a vital part in delivering…certainty” for EU employees.

“A record number of EU citizens have left the UK over the past two-and-a-half years,” he said. “The UK government has done very little to create a welcoming environment since the referendum. EU employees…need certainty now.”

The University of Liverpool – which has about 550 EU staff, amounting to roughly one in five employees – was among those that said it did not cover the cost of settled status applications.

Liverpool is one of the few universities that declines to cover the cost of staff visa applications or the associated NHS surcharge, although a spokeswoman said that the institution was “currently reviewing its relocation arrangements”.

Royal Holloway, University of London, where the 260 non-UK EU staff members again comprise about one in five of the workforce, also does not cover EU settlement costs, but said that the matter was “currently under consideration”.

The other institutions that said they were not covering any fees were the universities of Portsmouth, Ulster and Westminster, and Coventry University. Coventry later said that it was “considering this matter”.

With 2,050 non-UK EU staff members, UCL has the largest European contingent on its workforce of all UK universities. But, while the institution does cover the £65 pre-application fee for staff, a spokesman was unable to say whether family members would be supported too.

Tanja Bueltmann, professor of history at Northumbria University, said that while it was “very good to see” a number of universities pledging financial support of some kind, “nothing can ever undo the fact that EU citizens have to apply if they want to stay”.

While universities “are running out of time” to support staff, she added that “this is not just a question about financial support but wider pastoral care issues. My employer has been excellent on both counts, but I think that is not the norm in any way.”

Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat education spokewoman, said that the government had failed to advise universities on how to support staff through the settlement application process.

“I have no doubts that universities aren’t getting the support they need from the Home Office about this settled status scheme and I remain very sceptical that the Home Office will be able to administer and implement this scheme effectively,” she said.

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Reader's comments (1)

Actually, covering EU settlement costs and not covering the costs of non-EU Tier 2 visa renewals and ILR applications is discriminatory. It implies that one set of employees are worth supporting while another class are not. Ultimately, paying £65 is a band-aid related to panic while when new EU staff come in they will discover that when it comes to paying £,000 for visas and visa renewals that the support will fall away quickly as this will add hundreds of thousands of £ to university HR budgets. The University of Leeds (not mentioned in the article) showed tremendous foresight on this dimension, not only covering tier 2 visa renewals but also ILR costs of its staff and granting zero interest loans to cover any additional costs. This removes a huge disincentive to staff related to locating in the UK and also shows very forward thinking in ensuring that all staff are treated equally regardless of where they happen to be coming from.

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