Brexit could lead to academic ‘brain drain’

The UK will face an exodus of academics originating from the European Union unless they are given assurances over their post-Brexit futures in the country, a committee of MPs has warned.

According to a report by the cross-party House of Commons education select committee, the “significant uncertainty” surrounding Brexit not only affects university staff, but students, too. The report warns that, unless the government takes swift action to guarantee the rights of higher education staff from the EU to continue to live and work in Britain, the international reputation of the UK’s universities could be at risk.The report also calls for a more accommodating, less bureaucratic visa system to make it easier for academics from non-EU countries to work in the UK.Last month, the heads of 35 colleges at Oxford University put their names to an open letter warning MPs that the institution would “suffer enormous damage” unless the post-Brexit rights of EU staff were guaranteed.

Some academics returning home

The letter said that some of the EU academics, who comprise about 20 per cent of Oxford staff, were already planning to return home. “Our EU colleagues are not reassured by a government that tells them that deportation is not going to happen but declines to convert that assurance into law,” said the letter.“Many of our staff don’t know whether absences abroad on research contracts will count against them. Others do not know, however longstanding their work and residence, whether their children will be able to remain in the UK.”The MPs’ report said that about 16 per cent of the UK’s university workforce currently originate from elsewhere in the EU and pointed out that a recent survey showed just over three-quarters of them said the referendum’s outcome had made them more likely to consider leaving Britain.The report said, “The government has rightly identified the agreement of the rights of EU nationals as its first priority in the negotiations. However, we caution that a delay in confirming these rights will only intensify the current uncertainty for universities, and likely lead to a significant ‘brain drain’ in talented staff.”The MPs said they wanted the government to unilaterally guarantee the rights of EU nationals to remain if a reciprocal deal with the EU on the rights of UK expats on the continent was not reached before the end of this year.
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Brexit could damage “international competitiveness”

Neil Carmichael, the Conservative MP who chairs the committee, said, “Higher education in the UK is a world leader but Brexit risks damaging our international competitiveness and the long-term success of our universities.“It’s welcome that EU students have been given some guarantees on their funding and loan access but the government must act urgently to address the uncertainty over EU staff and avert the risk of a damaging ‘brain drain’ of talent from our shores.“As we leave the European Union, we now have the opportunity to reform our immigration system to ensure we reap the full rewards of the ability of our universities to attract the brightest and best students and staff from across the world.”On the question of students, the report pointed out that, in the 2015/16 academic year, 5.6 per cent of students at UK institutions were from EU nations, and another 13.6 per cent from non-EU countries.While the government has confirmed that EU students starting courses in autumn 2018 will still be eligible to the same loans and grants as UK students for the duration of their courses, the committee said that, further ahead, the best plan for all overseas students would be to keep a “reciprocal, open approach with light touch controls, such as visa-free access” by retaining a system “closely resembling freedom of movement”.The committee said the government should remove overseas students from the net migration figures to make it clear that it wants the UK to attract talent from across the world.Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, commented, “As well as removing international students from net migration figures, government must guarantee the rights of EU citizens currently working in the UK.“Along with international students, overseas staff make a huge contribution to UK society and I call on the government to end their uncertainty or risk damaging the UK’s ability to attract staff and students from around the world.”Preview Relocate's new 2017 Guide to International Education & SchoolsAccess hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online DirectoryClick to get to the Relocate Global Online Directory  Get access to our free Global Mobility Toolkit Global Mobility Toolkit download factsheets resource centre

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