Inquiry reveals concerns about UK higher education due to Brexit uncertainty

by Ray Clancy on December 29, 2016

The decision by the UK to leave the European Union could have a major impact on the number of students being able to study from overseas and on staff recruitment, according to a new report.

The Parliamentary Education Committee, which has received submissions from a diverse range of universities, businesses, academics and students, says that there is a degree of concern about the fate of UK universities post-Brexit.

StudentsWorries relate to a variety of issues concerning freedom of movement, including the prospects for recruiting EU students post-Brexit and the future rights of EU staff to live and work in the UK.

Concerns are also being raised about how to maintain the UK as an attractive destination for EU and international students, about the financial viability of universities, and the need to ensure Britain can continue to compete on the international stage as a provider of world class university education.

‘It’s crucial that we don’t allow Brexit to become a catastrophe for our university sector,’ said Neil Carmichael MP, chair of the Education Committee.

The British Council, which represents UK cultural and educational interests abroad, pointed out that studying overseas is widely recognised as beneficial for students and working overseas likewise for staff and unless this is allowed to continue universities and colleges will suffer.

‘To maintain our global reputation for higher education and research and to remain competitive, the UK needs to attract students and international collaboration from across the globe,’ the council’s evidence said.

In particular, it said that the UK needs to support and enhance the country’s access to international research collaboration and ensure public investment, support the UK in being an attractive destination for study and research and support UK students and staff to access global collaborations and opportunities.

Research Councils UK, the umbrella body for grant funding agencies, said in its evidence that British universities fear losing large swathes of their research staff as the country faces up to Brexit.

Some 31,000 academics at UK universities are non-British EU citizens and it is still unclear what their rights and status will be when the country actually leaves the EU in two years’ time. It says that unless the UK Government guarantees EU national academic staff the right to remain, it may not be easy for them to stay.

It added that many have not lived in the UK long enough to apply for permanent residency under current rules, and a large fraction do not earn enough on academic salaries to be eligible for a skilled worker visa.

There are concerns that if EU nationals were to leave the UK, basic science research would be hit harder than other disciplines. Statistics from the Department for Education show that 23% of academic staff in biology, mathematics and physics are EU citizens.

Evidence from Imperial College London said that only 30% of non-UK EU staff are currently eligible to apply for permanent residency and it has already experienced examples of scholars choosing not to join Imperial citing the referendum result as a factor.

Even if staff can apply for visas the cost has enormous implications. The University of Cambridge told the inquiry that visa costs for its non-UK EU staff would amount to some £1.25 million per year.

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