Brexit exodus: EU academics 'already pulling out' of UK universities, MPs warned

Universities failing to attract international academics as a result of Brexit, MPs warned, with many EU workers reportedly looking elsewhere for long-term employment

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The Independent Online

British universities are already losing out on vital research as a result of Brexit, a leading advisor has warned, with universities reporting that academics are already pulling out of research bids as a consequence.

Dr Jo Beall, Director of Education and Society for the British Council, said the Government must take action “immediately” into securing the future of university research, or risk irrevocable damage to industry reputation. 

Her comments were given alongside evidence presented to the Education Select Committee as part of an inquiry into the impact of Brexit on higher education.

Speaking on the panel with Dr Beall, representatives from the University and College Union, the Erasmus scheme, Universities UK and London Economics voiced fears over the future of university funding and said detailed reassurance was needed for EU students and staff living and working in the UK.

Sally Hunt, General Secretary of the University and College Union, which represents academics from thousands of universities across the UK, said the Prime Minister’s speech on Brexit negotiations had left many issues concerning the sector “unclear”.

“The sector feels, alongside many others, that those who are from the EU feel a sense of being unwelcome,” she added. “That’s something that the Prime Minister’s speech did not address”.

“Our EU national members feel very strongly that they are having to look elsewhere for long-term employment,” she said.

The hearing at University College London on Wednesday was the second evidence session to be held by the committee, following months of concern from top academics and education leaders over the practicalities of Britain’s departure from the EU.

Appearing in front of the committee in Oxford earlier this month, Alistair Fitt, vice-chancellor of Oxford Brookes University, told committee members that Brexit “would probably be the biggest disaster for the university sector in many years”.

Vice-chancellors had previously complained that reassurances were yet to be made from the Government over the future of funding for university research, as much of this comes from the EU.

It was also said that early indications show the number of prospective EU students choosing to study in the UK might fall as a result of Brexit – a loss that could cost the UK economy more than £690m per year.

Applications from across the European Union have already dropped by 14 per cent at Cambridge University for undergraduate courses alone, MPs were told.

Speaking on Wednesday, industry members said Theresa May’s speech had done little to address these issues, leaving millions of university staff and students in the dark.

Last week the Prime Minister indicated that she wanted EU nationals to have the right to remain in Britain, but gave no guarantee.

Speaking on Wednesday, industry members said her speech had done little to address the industry’s concerns, leaving millions of university staff and students in the dark.

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Sally Hunt said that instead of trying to pass the responsibility onto other countries yet to offer reciprocal deals, the Prime Minister should "act now to reassure the thousands of EU staff working in UK universities that they will be able to remain in the country".

Panel members also discussed the threatened future of the Erasmus scheme, which is funded primarily by the EU and allows access for students to study abroad as part of their degree course.

Ms Hunt said: “It will make the study of languages in the UK almost redundant if we can’t have Erasmus”.

Referring to the Prime Minister’s vision of a “truly global Britain,” Rosie Birchard, of Erasmus Student Network UK, said there was a "distinct contradiction” between the “aspirations of a global Britain and what those actions will be”.

Dr Beall added that if UK wanted to be “successful globally,” students will need to speak and have access to other languages".

The advisor added that any alternative model would cost the Government substantially more, and would not necessarily guarantee students of all backgrounds the access to studying abroad that the Erasmus scheme does.

“With Erasmus, we get a lot of bang for our buck,” she said.

Written evidence published by the House of Commons Education Committee in recent weeks highlighted concerns from 190 individual groups within the sector, following an inquiry into the impact of Brexit.

Cambridge University’s submission warned that Brexit could push the reputation of UK universities off a “cliff edge”, leading to “serious repercussions” should academics be denied free movement and required to apply for visas. 

EU citizens from outside the UK currently make up around five per cent of students, accounting for almost a quarter of maths students at Russell Group universities and more than 20 per cent of academic staff overall.

Students from other EU countries are estimated to have contributed £2.7bn to the British economy, along with 19,000 extra jobs.

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