Post-Brexit fears causing academics to leave Britain

Fears about future career prospects after the Brexit vote is causing European researchers and lecturers to leave UK higher education posts. A leading German academics’ body has warned that upto 15% of staff could leave unless free movement for EU academics is maintained, reported The Guardian.

Margret Wintermantel, head of DAAD, an academic exchange service which represents more than 300 higher education institutions and student bodies across Germany, said uncertainty about future working and residence conditions was “proving painful” and prompting top academics to turn down British university jobs.

“The mobility of researchers should not be restricted, either for British academics in EU countries or EU citizens at British institutions,” Wintermantel has said . “It is now up to the British government to create the necessary framework to ensure this can happen.”

There are about 32,000 non- British EU academics out of which Germans constitute 17%, around 5,200. At top ranking institutions the figure is closer to 20%.

Most top research grants are held by EU researchers. Now reports show that these researchers are scaling down their projects or withdrawing totally. It seems that researchers fear losses in the future. Some have cited uncertainty, xenophobia and abuse as their reason for leaving.

Mike Galsworthy, the programme director of Scientists for EU, said many EU nationals in the UK field were clearly considering their futures, driven by a mixture of broad cultural concerns, practical worries about their personal status and future funding fears.

“The anti-immigrant focus of the leave campaign and the surge in xenophobia nationally since the referendum have made many foreigners in the UK research community feel less welcome,” Galsworthy said.

“But people also worry about their rights as citizens and about the future funding landscape. We know nothing about what British science structure and policy will be, or its relationship with EU programmes.”

Read: Brexit leaves UK universities in a state of disarray

Many academics are worried that EU research funds would barely cover the legal minimum of what is needed. They feel that it is essential for Britain to form longer-term strategies for academic funding and immigration if its universities are to retain their world-leading role.

Paul Nurse, the Nobel prize-winning head of the Francis Crick Institute, Europe’s biggest biomedical research centre, said 55% of its staff and €6m of its funding were from the EU, and many researchers were worried for their future.

Nurse expressed concern about, “the risk of a xenophobic reputation spreading out there – that Britain is not open for international business”.

Seven national academies, including the British Academy and the Royal Society, recently wrote to the government demanding that it reassure EU researchers that “they and their dependents will be able to continue to live and work here”.

Universities UK, which represents 135 universities, has urged the government to guarantee that existing EU staff will be able to remain after Brexit and send a “clear international message” that Britain remains “an attractive destination for academic talent.” It also said that future immigration reforms must reflect the importance to the UK of international students and academic employees.

Many people are already leaving though, pushed by fears of an economic slowdown. Future international collaborations and EU applications have also decreased.

Even British academics are considering moving away. Helen Fletcher, an associate professor of immunology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said

“My home is here, in the UK,” she said. “But if it gets to the point that I can’t get research funding because the environment is detrimental to that, then I would move.”

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