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A new report from the Commons education committee has highlighted how 32,000 university staff are currently waiting to hear if their right to stay in the UK after Brexit will be granted. The government has been urged to act swiftly to secure the rights of these individuals or the UK could face a Brexit brain-drain. This would have a significant impact on the UK’s international competitiveness.
The report, introduced by Neil Carmichael, the conservative chairman of the committee stated: “Higher education in the UK is a world leader, but Brexit risks damaging our international competitiveness and the long-term success of our universities.” Drawing on information from a survey by the University and College Union, the report outlined how 76% of European academics in the UK said they would consider leaving in light of the referendum vote. Another poll of academics revealed that 53% were already actively looking to leave the UK.
While other industries may have experienced a hiring freeze placed on new hires, the opposite seems to be the case with academics. Some EU citizens have preemptively pulled out of job offers citing concerns about Brexit uncertainty. These aren’t isolated cases, and the report is the result of a six-month inquiry into the impact of Brexit on higher education. The committee visited three higher education establishments and gathered information from over 40 other institutions.
The report made several recommendations, one of which has received widespread support from MPs. Many have called on Theresa May to exclude international students from the official migration targets. The report also called on the government to secure the position of EU academics currently living in the UK to prevent a brain-drain effect following the end of the negotiating period. Finally, the report called on the government to reform the immigration system to encourage rather than hinder movement between European countries for academic staff.
Academics have been quick to note that many key research projects rely on collaboration between other countries in Europe and further afield. Prof David Lomas, vice provost (health) of University College London also identified a loss of EU funding as a potential problem. He said: “In order to service that kind of excellence, we need people from all over the world. We would like access to the EU funds and the very best people,” he said. “Post-Brexit, there will be an international market and there will be a flight to quality.”
Responding to the report, Alistair Jarvis, the deputy chief executive of Universities UK said: “The government should seek to secure continued close collaboration with EU research partners and also provide certainty for EU staff currently working in UK universities in terms of work and residency rights.”