Why leaving Brexit is academic
The number of EU academics leaving leading British research-based universities has risen since the Brexit referendum vote. Close to 4,300 of them left institutions in the so-called Russell Group of universities in 2016/17, up 11% from the previous academic year.
Chemistry, bioscience, physics and engineering departments are being disproportionately affected by Brexit uncertainty – while EU academics account for just over one-quarter of chemistry departments at Russell Group universities, 36% of those leaving chemistry posts in 2016/17 were from the European Union.
“The longer EU academics have to wait for legal clarity over their immigration status and certainty over the UK's access to EU research programmes, the more likely it is [that] problems in recruiting and retaining EU staff will intensify,” says Dr Hollie Chandler, senior policy adviser at the Russell Group.
The government last week unveiled plans to ease visa restrictions with a fast-track immigration system and make it easier for scientists to come to the UK. Details from PM Boris Johnson, however, were characteristically vague
While Johnson talked about attracting “the very best minds from around the world,” that’s highly unlikely given the uncertainty over access to European research funding, along with the fact that a hard Brexit would serve to cut the country off from leading research centres.
Academics were less than impressed by the fast-track proposal. Nobel prize-winning physicist Prof Sir Andre Geim told the Times that “Scientists are not fools. They know that [Brexit] turmoil is inevitable for many years.”