Tens of thousands of EU staff and students at UK universities uncertain about future

by Ray Clancy on January 21, 2019

As political turmoil continues in the UK over the Brexit deal that will allow the country to leave the European Union, many expats are left in a state of uncertainty, not knowing what will happen in a just a few weeks time.

Universities in particular are concerned as the issue affects students from the EU already studying in the UK, those who want to study in the UK and staff who are EU citizens.

(AndreyPopov/Bigstock.com)

As a result several bodies that represent universities have written to the Government and politicians urging them to sort out a deal and warning them that the current situation leaves many unsure of their future, particularly if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

In the document, Universities UK, the Russell Group, Guild HE, MillionPlus and University Alliance, which collectively represent more than 150 higher education providers across the UK, say the impact of a no deal scenario could lead to an academic, cultural and scientific setback from which it would take decades to recover.

It points out that they are speaking on behalf of 50,000 EU staff and 130,000 EU students, as well as 15,000 UK students studying in Europe, who are all facing significant uncertainty about their futures.

‘Vital research links will be compromised, from new cancer treatments to technologies combatting climate change. The valuable exchange of students, staff and knowledge would be seriously damaged. And we share the concerns of business about the impact of no deal on everything from supply chains to security and travel,’ the letter says.

It calls on the Government to be more robust and demonstrate the required ambition to put the right measures and guarantees in place, and, crucially, avoid the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal on 29 March.

As a matter of urgency, they call for a guarantee that research funding from which the UK may be excluded at the end of March will be replaced.

‘We are home to one of the best research systems in the world, attractive to stellar academics, top students and global partnerships, and we must not let this be compromised by a no deal Brexit. Time is running out to make decisions on issues which will ultimately affect the country and society as a whole,’ said Professor Dame Janet Beer, president of Universities UK.

‘Without cast-iron assurances, world-leading academics and researchers may leave for countries where access to ERC funding is not at risk, and those currently considering relocating to the UK may think again,’ she added.

Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Manchester, pointed out that university research is at the forefront of scientific and medical breakthroughs and many are only possible through EU research collaborations, on projects led by UK universities.

‘At the University of Manchester, vital and transformative research programmes risk being disrupted, such as our work on proton-beam therapy for cancer patients, which allows more precise targeting of tumour sites and minimises damage to surrounding tissue, and our Nobel-prize winning work on graphene, the strongest, thinnest and most versatile material ever identified,’ she pointed out.

‘Leaving the EU without a deal would be a serious setback for these fields of discovery and many more, from the arts and social sciences to engineering and nuclear research. Researchers who have already spent months or even years preparing funding bids would be left high and dry, including those whose application would be stuck in the middle of the evaluation process,’ she added.

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