EU workforce in UK shrinks after Brexit

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

International facts and figures 2022published by Universities UK International on June 30, says nearly one in three academics (32.1%) working in the UK in 2020-21 came from overseas – a total of 71,475 – and of these, more half (53.5%) came 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 has started collecting data. The drop was marginal, at 0.3%.

Germany was the third largest source of academics, but its number also fell by 2.8% to 5,505. The number of French academics in the UK fell by 3.1% to 3,175, while that the Dutch cohort fell by 0.6% to 1,765.

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

Previous data showed a rapid increase in the number of European academics leaving the UK following the country’s vote to leave the EU, and a decline 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 increased by 2.1% to 4,620, while Spain (up 0.4% to 3 475), Poland (up 2.1% to 1,430) and Portugal (+2.4% to 1,280).

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

Researchers have previously suggested that academics from key Western European sectors may be the 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 block.

Along with the feeling of unwelcome the Brexit vote may have given, EU scholars hoping to move to the UK now face visa fees that have been heavily criticized by vice – chancellors. It can cost a researcher, their partner and two children almost £16,000 to move to the country, UUK has previously warned.

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

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Helen D. Jessen