Following the Brexit vote, around 31,000 EU academics in UK universities are being told to make arrangements to leave, some having already decided to comply, putting the expertise of UK universities in serious jeopardy.
While most of the Brexit commentary about UK universities concentrated on issues of funding, research cooperation and students, much less attention had been paid to what keeps universities running, such as academic staff, and what Brexit will mean for the 30,000-plus EU academics in the UK.
Having lived and worked here for more than two decades, many EU academics decided to apply for leave to remain after 23 June. However, following the rejection of their applications they received a letter from the Home Office saying that they should “now make arrangements to leave”. The typical letter goes on saying that “if you fail to make a voluntary departure a separate decision may be made at a later date to enforce your removal…” It goes on explaining that the decision on whether to accept or reject these applications is based on the “Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 and Regulation 26 of the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006”. The latter will be repealed in the Great Repeal Bill planned by the government, which could rescind any ‘right to remain’ granted under existing law and regulations.
Already EU nationals are leaving, or planning to leave, because of the uncertain and unwelcoming future they now face.
The considerable impact on UK universities
A recent survey of academics conducted by YouGov for the University and College Union (UCU), an Education International (EI) affiliate, found that an overwhelming majority (90 per cent) said Brexit will have a negative impact on UK higher education. Three-quarters (76 per cent) of non-UK EU academics said they were more likely to consider leaving UK higher education. A third (29 per cent) said they already know of academics leaving the UK, and over two-fifths (44 per cent) said they know of academics who have lost access to research funding as a direct result of Brexit.
Figures calculated from the Higher Education Statistics Agency data for 2014/15 also show that UK universities are heavily dependent on academics from the EU, as 31,000 UK university academics come from the EU – 16 percent of the total.
And they are undeniably essential to UK top-rated universities: the London School of Economics has 38 per cent EU academic staff, and other prominent London colleges – Imperial, King’s, University College London – have between a quarter and nearly a third. Oxford has 24 per cent and Cambridge 22 per cent.
The EU academics are equally important in core subject areas vital to UK long-term economic health. Areas like physics (26 per cent), chemical engineering (25 per cent), biosciences (22 per cent), chemistry (21 per cent) and IT (20 per cent) are all heavily reliant on European talent.
Because they represent an important part of the UK global status, losing EU academics therefore could have negative effects for the UK.