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Brexit Could Drive EU Staff to Leave Scottish Universities

Dominique Adams


NHS Digital Academy

The Scottish Funding Council has raised serious concerns that Brexit could drive away EU academics and researchers from Scottish Universities. 

The Scottish Funding Council (SFC), a non-deparmental public body that helps fund colleges and universities, has said there is “anecdotal evidence” that academic EU staff are already finding, or considering, new roles as a result of Brexit.

The motivation to leave is driven in part by the risk to free movement post-Brexit and the change in the status of EU citizens.

The SFC recently released a report examining the possible impact of Brexit on students, staff and research funding. The report also highlights the role that EU citizens and funding play in Scotland’s higher learning institutions.

EU nationals make up more than a fifth of teaching and research staff in Scottish universities and colleges. If they opt to leave, these institutions could find themselves short of staff and academic talent.

The SCF warns that this exodus may not be limited to EU staff, as potentially the number of EU students coming to study in Scotland could also drop significantly, which could lead to changes for the courses on offer.

Scotland’s Higher Education Institutes Closely Linked

Currently, 7.9% of undergraduates from the EU study at Scottish Universities, while 20% of teaching and research staff are EU nationals.

The loss of EU student funding, which could make Scotland a less attractive destination for study, has the potential to seriously impact the constitution of Scotland’s workforce and hit productivity and growth, according to the SFC.

A drop in the number of EU student enrollments could see a decline in certain subjects, it said. Currently, EU students make up 14.3% of undergraduate studying biological sciences and 12% in maths and computer science.

Funding is another area that could suffer as a result of Brexit. The overall amount of Scottish university funding received from EU sources is 10.7%.

This likely loss of EU funding is yet another factor driving current EU staff to seek opportunities abroad and strongly influencing EU staff against considering a role in Scotland, the SFC noted.

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Stuart Fancey, SFC director of research and innovation, said: “Scotland’s internationally renowned research and innovation base is reliant on our ability to attract, recruit and retain internationally mobile talent.

“We value the contribution EU students and staff make towards the diversity of our campuses and the learning and cultural experiences of Scottish students.

“Scottish students have likewise taken the opportunity to study or train in Europe, with the number of applications from Scottish students for the Erasmus+ programme increasing by 50% over the last seven years.”

Scottish Government to Continue to Welcome EU Academics

The Scottish Government and higher education institutes have made it clear they plan to continue to welcome EU students and academics and maintain their relationship with European universities post-Brexit.

Next week, Scottish Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, Richard Lochead, will led a delegation to Brussels to discuss the importance of maintaining Scotland’s research base and links with European institutions.

Lochhead commented: “The message we are taking is simple: Scotland’s universities and research institutions are open and welcoming, and we maintain a strong commitment to research collaboration across Europe.

“We know that Scotland’s research has been strengthened by EU citizens working in Scotland, our membership of the European Union and our active participation in the Horizon 2020 programme.

“The benefits that such participation has provided cannot be underestimated and we will not stand by and see these benefits eroded and obstacles erected that undermine our future.”

Commenting on the importance of EU partnerships, Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, said: “Those relationships are deeply important to us and that remains the case whatever the outcome of the Brexit process.

“It’s a message we need to keep repeating so it is not lost amidst the noise and chaos going on elsewhere and that’s why it is good to be out in Brussels this week.”

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Dominique Adams

Staff Writer, DIGIT

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