An analysis of the impact of the Brexit vote on academics carried out by the The Russell Group has found an increase in the numbers of EU citizens leaving their academic posts since the Brexit vote, and a decrease in the number of EU citizens coming to the UK to fill vacant academic posts. The Russell Group is a self selected association of 24 research universities in the UK, including Oxford and Cambridge, who represent their members interests primarily to the UK parliament. The data used was from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, which serves as the official agency for the collection, analysis, and dissemination on higher education in the UK.
In 2015-16 3,865 EU nationals quit jobs in academic posts in Russell Group universities. In 2016-17 the number was 4,280, an 11% increase. During the same time periods, the number of non-EU academics leaving their posts rose by 4%, and the number of UK academics leaving their posts rose by 5%. The proportion of EU academics hired by Russell Group universities from overseas went from 48% in the 2016-17 period to only 43% in the 2017-18 period, meaning that more of the EU nationals who are being hired by Russell Group universities were already UK residents. While the overall number of EU academics working in Russell Group universities rose by 4% in 2017-18, this is the lowest growth in a decade, in what is otherwise a growing industry. The Russell Group argue that if urgent action isn’t taken, and these trends continue, UK universities will soon have a net loss in EU academics year on year.
The Russell Group is calling on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to make good on political promises made during the Brexit referendum in 2016 and to guarantee working and residency rights to academics from the EU before the October 31 Brexit deadline. In the analysis, Senior Policy Analyst for The Russell Group Dr Hollie Chandler writes “For any prime minister interested in the health of a sector that is a major national asset, and fundamental to our future economic success, this should be a concern”. She later writes “Our new Prime Minister must address this situation as a priority and take action to provide certainty and reassurance to EU academics. If not, the UK risks losing many talented EU teachers, researchers, technicians and innovators who are so fundamental to the success of our sector”.
Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Higher Education Policy Institute, a UK think tank, Rachel Hewitt has called the Data “concerning,” adding “Much of the discussion about the impact of Brexit on higher education has been on the impact on students, but the impact staff at UK universities has clearly already been significant…EU academics help to make our universities the first-class institutions they are, and they have a particularly critical role in the research we conduct.” She echoed Dr Chandlers calls on the government, saying that “The government needs to take action to ensure that the UK remains an inviting place for talented academics across the world to come to work.”
Responding to the report, a Department for Education spokesperson said, “As this report rightly recognises, our universities’ non-UK workforce grew again in 2017-18 and the increasing diversity of our higher-education system is one of the many reasons it continues to thrive. We are stepping up our preparations to leave the EU, which includes making sure our world-class universities are able to continue with important research and teaching. We are making an unequivocal guarantee to the 3.2 million EU nationals living and working among us, and they will have the absolute certainty of the right to live and remain in the UK.”
The UK Government has already started a settlement scheme for EU nationals living in the UK, however the rights promised on the scheme are yet to be enshrined into UK law. These rights had previously been defined in Theresa May’s Withdrawal bill, but that bill was defeated in parliament. The Russell Group are seeking these legal protections for EU academics in the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill which is currently awaiting a date for its third reading in parliament.
Another concern for academics who remain in the UK is access to funding. Following Brexit, it will be unlikely that researchers in UK university will be eligible for European Research Council (ERC) Grants, or qualify for Marie Skłodowska Curie Actions that give researchers money to spend time working in a lab in a different country. In the decade before 2016, UK scientists won 22% of ERC grants awarded. Non-EU member participation in ERC projects from 2020 is still being discussed, and UK science minister Chris Skidmore and director of the Alan Turing Institute Adrian Smith has begun a project to investigate the possibility of having a UK research Grant Scheme to attract researchers to the UK. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that these grants will be able to make up for the losses in EU funding post Brexit.