EU academics leaving top British universities amidst Brexit uncertainty
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EU academics leaving top British universities amidst Brexit uncertainty

EU academics leaving top British universities amidst Brexit uncertainty

A recent analysis suggests EU academics at prestigious British universities are leaving their posts in droves amidst Brexit uncertainty, with chemistry departments being hit the hardest.

According to the Russell Group, there was an 11 percent rise in EU academics who left their posts in the year after the Brexit vote. A total of 4,280 European staff quit their academic posts at leading research-intensive Russell Group universities in 2016/2017, compared to 3,865 in 2015/2016.

In comparison, the number of non-EU and UK academics leaving the group of universities rose by just four percent and five percent respectively over the same period.

Some disciplines have been hit harder than others by the exodus of EU education professionals.

“In 2016/2017, EU academics at Russell Group universities made up a disproportionately high percentage of staff leaving posts in a number of strategically important subjects such as biosciences, physics, chemistry and engineering. For example, EU nationals represented 27 percent of academics working in chemistry departments in 2016/2017, but a much higher proportion, 36 percent, of academics who left chemistry posts that year,” it said.

There has also been difficulty recruiting EU talent from abroad. The numbers shrunk from 48 percent to 43 percent between 2016/2017 and 2017/2018, meaning a greater proportion of the EU nationals recruited were already based in the UK.

With Britain looking increasingly insular coupled with the academic brain drain, will international students be lured to study elsewhere, toppling Britain’s allure as a popular study abroad destination?

More certainty needed for EU academics

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Certainty over the residency and working rights of EU academics is needed. Source: Shutterstock

The Russell Group asserts that certainty over the residency and working rights of EU researchers ahead of the Brexit deadline of 31 October is needed to avoid the hemorrhaging of academic talent. They fear the number of EU figures leaving British universities could exceed those arriving without swift intervention.

“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,” it noted on its website.

The number of EU nationals working in UK universities increased by four percent in 2017/2018, but this was the lowest level of growth for more than a decade.

“What is interesting is that between 2015/2016 and 2017/2018, whilst growth in EU academics continued to fall (from 7 percent year-on-year growth to 4 percent), growth in non-EU and UK academics increased, suggesting that once the promised referendum became a reality, it had a specific impact on EU academics,” explained the Russell Group. 

“Our message to the new Prime Minister is clear: this situation needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency or EU academics will take their talents elsewhere.”

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