European academic staff numbers in UK shrinking post-Brexit

Fewer scholars from Italy, Germany, France and Netherlands working in British universities, says report

六月 30, 2022
Dover, United Kingdom. 19th October 2021. HGV lorries queue on the M20 motorway just outside Dover, the UK's largest port and the main gateway to the European Union.
Source: iStock

The number of academics from several major European countries working in UK higher education has shrunk for the first time, a report says.

International Facts and Figures 2022, published by Universities UK International on 30 June, says that nearly one in three (32.1 per cent) academics working in the UK in 2020-21 came from overseas – a total of 71,475 – and of these, more than half (53.5 per cent) were from the European Union.

While Italian nationals continued to form the largest group of international academic staff, with 6,635 of them in the UK, their cohort shrank that year for the first time since 2004-05, when the Higher Education Statistics Agency started collecting data. The drop was marginal, at 0.3 per cent.

Germany was the third-largest source of academics, but its numbers fell, too, by 2.8 per cent to 5,505. The number of French academics in the UK fell by 3.1 per cent to 3,175, while the Dutch cohort was down 0.6 per cent to 1,765.

Among the top 20 source countries, there were also fewer academics in the UK from Greece (down 0.9 per cent to 3,940) and Romania (down 2.6 per cent to 760).

Previous data have shown a rapid increase in the number of European academics leaving the UK in the wake of the country’s vote to quit the EU, and a drop in the number of EU staff taking up new posts.

The downward trend was not universal: the number of Irish academics working in the UK rose by 2.1 per cent to 4,620, while there were also increases from Spain (up 0.4 per cent to 3,475), Poland (up 2.1 per cent to 1,430) and Portugal (up 2.4 per cent to 1,280).

But the most rapid growth in the past five years has come from non-EU sectors, namely Nigeria, Turkey, Pakistan, Iran and India. Between 2019-20 and 2020-21, the number of Nigerian academics in the UK grew by 15 per cent to 1,185, while the number of Turkish academics climbed by 9.4 per cent to 815. There were 820 scholars from Pakistan, up 8.6 per cent; 3,460 from Iran, up 8.8 per cent; and 1,360 from Iran, up 7.5 per cent. China’s growth rate was slower – up 2.8 per cent to 5,660 – but that still makes it the second largest overseas cohort overall.

Researchers have previously suggested that scholars from leading western European sectors may have been most likely to leave the UK, with staff from central or eastern Europe apparently less troubled by a possible Brexit effect, potentially reflecting poorer working conditions in this part of the bloc.

As well as the feeling of not being welcome that may have been given by the Brexit vote, EU academics hoping to move to the UK now face visa fees that have been heavily criticised by vice-chancellors. It can cost nearly £16,000 for a researcher, their partner and two children to relocate to the country, UUK has warned previously.

Elsewhere, the UUK report confirms that 605,130 international students were enrolled with UK higher education providers in 2020-21, apparently hitting the 600,000 target set by the Westminster government a decade early. However, some of these students may have studied online from their own country because of the Covid-19 pandemic.



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