EU university researchers in UK apprehensive about Brexit

by Ray Clancy on December 8, 2017

Life changing research carried out in the UK could lose some of its brightest minds who happen to be European Union citizen unless they receive long term clarity from the Brexit negotiations, it is claimed.

As the Brexit negotiations move on to a new stage, Universities UK, which represents universities around the country, has pointed out that the country’s globally successful university sector benefits enormously from its appeal to high calibre academics and researchers from around the world.


It says that 17% of academic staff and 6% of professional services staff at UK universities are from other EU countries and the organisation is calling on the Government to ensure there are minimal barriers for non-UK university staff and students, as part of the reformed post-Brexit immigration system.

‘We would also like to see a government-backed drive to promote the UK’s universities internationally, communicating a welcoming and consistent message that encourages talented staff and students to choose the UK,’ it says in a statement.

Meanwhile, EU researchers working in the UK have been speaking about their experience and why they want to stay in Britain. Dr Swenja Surminski is regarded as a top expert on climate change, particularly flood risk, and has been working at the London School of Economics and Political Science for seven years.

‘Sine my arrival in the UK I felt integrated and my Germany nationality didn’t seem to matter. In fact, there were many occasions when I represented UK business in UK Government discussions,’ she explained.

‘For me, the real value arises from the impact our research has and using our analysis to influence those who make change about the climate,’ she added.

Dr Danny Steeghs is an astrophysicist from the Netherlands who has been working for 10 years in the UK, currently at the University of Warwick, and renowned in space technology. He believes that the vote in favour of Brexit had an immediate impact on the way the global science community see the UK.

‘Freedom of movement within the EU is a huge asset for scientists whose careers typically involve several moves. There is no question that the UK is significantly less attractive to many already and as Brexit drags on this will only get worse,’ he said.

For professor Derk-Jan Duk, a world leader in sleep science at the University of Surrey, there is a concern that he and his family will no longer feel part of the community. ‘I decided to work in the UK because of its reputation for social justice, free movement and its scientific research reputation,’ he said.

‘Brexit means that this sense of security and being part of the European academic community is destroyed. As a non-UK EU citizen I felt equal. As a settler I and my family will no longer feel so,’ he added.

Working in the UK means everything to professor Ioannis Ieropoulos from Cyprus. He is an energy research specialist and the University of the West of England and has worked in the UK for 18 years. ‘This is where my family, career and whole life is and has been for almost 20 years. Stability should be a top priority and this is one of the qualities that attracted me to the UK and has been my experience all along. I would like to think that impact of Brexit will be appropriately mangaged,’ he said.

Dr Simona Francese is a world leading fingerprint analyst from Italy working at Sheffield Hallam University. ‘Thee are no guarantees my research will be funded after Brexit. I am very loyal to the UK. Brexit has inevitably triggered unpleasant feeling of not being wanted,’ she pointed out.

For professor Marc Desmulliez at Heriot Watt University it is important that the UK’s scientific community continues to excell. He is proud of his 26 years of research specialising in technology used by the food industry.

‘I am proud to have provided so much for the UK and I am grateful for the warm welcome I have received in this country. The UK scientific community has continuously excelled in attracting funding and our contribution is terms of ideas, innovation and way of working. I hope it stays that way,’ said the Frenchman.

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