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British academics quitting UK over Brexit

Written by: Ellie Bothwell
Published on: 4 Oct 2021

Participants In Home Made Rafts rowing as a metaphor for British academics quitting UK over Brexit

Source: Alamy

Brexit is driving British academics out of the country, according to scholars who have cited future opportunities for funding and research networks as key push factors.

An increase in the number of European Union academics flocking from the UK is a well-documented trend, with the latest available data suggesting that almost double the number of such scholars left the UK for a job in a university abroad in 2019 than before the Brexit referendum.

But British scholars who have relocated to positions in the EU have told Times Higher Education that Brexit was also a factor in their move, despite not being directly affected by immigration policies in the UK and despite the additional burden of having to deal with such bureaucracy abroad.

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Simon Watson, professor of wind energy systems at Delft University of Technology, said that Brexit was the “final straw” in his decision to leave his post at Loughborough University. While the Dutch institution’s larger wind energy research team was a “big draw” for Professor Watson, he said that Brexit “gave me a push.

“I could see that it may well reduce opportunities in the future – both opportunities to move abroad if I wanted to develop my career as I have done now, but also, if I stayed in the UK, there was no guarantee that European funding would still be available and it would probably reduce our ability to recruit European students,” said Professor Watson, who joined Delft in June 2017.

“I’m seeing it from the other side now. Universities here will work with UK universities, but there’s more of a reluctance now. The attraction of having a UK university involved in European projects is not what it was.”

A THE analysis recently found that agreed grants from Horizon 2020 to many UK research-intensive universities had dropped by more than 20 per cent by the last year of the programme, while a broader analysis by the campaign group Scientists for EU suggested that the UK may have lost out on £1.5 billion in funding since 2015 when comparing the figures with German institutions.

Miles Taylor, who will be starting a new role as professor of British history and society at the Humboldt University of Berlin in October after 17 years in the history department at the University of York, said he knew of several other British academics, both junior and senior, who had moved to Europe in the past few years.

“There’s a post-Brexit reaction,” he said, adding that while the UK has committed to pay to participate in the EU’s Horizon Europe programme, “it’s not clear what the longer-term future of UK involvement in Horizon is going to be”.

“There’s also the attraction of moving to Europe because so many master’s and undergraduate programmes are being conducted in English. Also, a lot of the big European players have adjusted their research cultures to be more like the British” system, he said, citing Germany concentrating research funding on a select number of universities and France reorganising the structure of its institutions.

“That actually works to the advantage of British scholars who want to move because they’re entering a research environment that looks more like their own,” Professor Taylor said.