An academic Brexodus is upon us

Lib Dem activist Dr Ruvi Zieglar has written for the Cherwell, Oxford University’s newspaper, on the effect of Brexit being felt by universities. Many European staff are leaving because of the uncertainties surrounding jobs, research funding and future prospects.

Ruvi says,

‘Brexodus’ is picking up speed: according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 130,000 EU27 citizens emigrated between September 2016-17, the highest number since the 2008 financial crisis.

Ruvi goes on to explain,

Nearly two years after the referendum, EU27 [citizens] are still waiting for their post-Brexit rights to be secured….The draft Withdrawal Agreement hardly puts EU27 citizens’ anxieties to rest: it requires over 3 million EU27 citizens to apply for settled status, and important rights may be lost.

And it is not just staff that are being lost, Brexit is affecting research funding as well.

The uncertainty about the UK’s position post-Brexit is seriously harming career prospects of staff involved in EU-funded projects and is therefore potentially making UK academia less attractive than its competitors. This is not just a question of eligibility for participation in, for example, Erasmus student and staff exchange, which the government’s brinkmanship is putting in doubt. Academics in EU27 countries may become increasingly wary of bidding jointly with academics in UK-based institutions. There is already a reported sharp drop in successful bids by UK-based academics, with reports suggesting that “millions of pounds [have been] lost as a result of a fall overall in Britain’s share of the flagship Horizon 2020 project”.

Ruvi has passionately campaigned over the past two years for the rights of EU27 citizens who live, work and raise their families here to be maintained post-Brexit. Do read his full article is here.

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  • ‘Brexodus’ is picking up speed: according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 130,000 EU27 citizens emigrated between September 2016-17, the highest number since the 2008 financial crisis.

    But over that same period 220,000 arrived.

    It’s a funny kind of ‘exodus’ that ends up with nearly 100,000 extra people!

  • RUVI ZIEGLER 14th Jun '18 - 11:28am

    Thanks for your comment Dav. The figures you cite concern overall net migration (both EU27 and Rest of the World) to the UK, which as we know is skewed e.g. by student numbers. You will find that there has been a significant drop in new arrivals from the EU27 since the referendum.
    Moreover, I think one ought to be worried that EU27 citizens who has been based in the UK, sometimes for many years, including many in the professional sectors, have decided to leave, already creating shortages in e.g. nursing. We of course have not left yet, and notwithstanding the uncertainty re future status EU27 in the UK are still exercising treaty rights – and should an agreement be concluded the same will apply to those arriving until the end of the transition period.
    The article takes the long view, and on those metrics – for the reasons outlined – the UK stands to lose out, much to my regret as a UK based academic.

  • The figures you cite concern overall net migration (both EU27 and Rest of the World) to the UK

    No, they don’t. From


    ‘The number of EU citizens coming to the UK (220,000) decreased by 47,000 over the last year and is now at a level comparable with 2014 (Figure 3 and Table 3). The number leaving the UK (130,000) is the highest recorded level since 2008. As a result, EU net migration has now returned to the level last seen in 2012.’

    So they are like-for-like, and don’t combine EU and rest-of-the-world figures.

    Moreover, I think one ought to be worried that EU27 citizens who has been based in the UK, sometimes for many years, including many in the professional sectors, have decided to leave

    But as long as more are arriving to take their place, isn’t that just part of the normal ebb and flow of life? Some people more away from a city, or country, some people move in; the only way to stop that is to build a wall, as the East Germans discovered.

  • RUVI ZIEGLER 14th Jun '18 - 12:11pm

    The figures clearly show a fall in arrivals and an increase in departures. But the crux of the article is the effect on academia: the broader immigration point was just a primer.

  • The figures clearly show a fall in arrivals and an increase in departures

    Yep. But that just mean that the rate of people arriving has slowed, which is a very different thing from people leaving, which is what the word ‘exodus’ means.

    Surely someone who is in academia would understand second derivatives?

  • Dav,

    You mentioned ebb and flow well at the moment it looks like it is turning to ebb

    Having seen a 12.5% shortfall in migrant workers in 2017, the National Farmers Union has warned the government that the recruitment of enough workers for the 2018 picking season is “mission critical” for UK fruit and veg farmers. The shortfall is not simply the result of concerns about Brexit, although that’s a factor; EU workers
    now have a wider range of employment options and many have seen wages increase in their own country or can travel somewhere closer to home for seasonal work. There are also concerns that the number of returning workers, who bring skills
    and experience, has fallen

    UK said farewell to 4,000 nurses and midwives from European Economic Area in past year, with only 800 arriving

    From this simple analysis, we can begin to anticipate the impact of Brexit on academic staff in UK HEIs. We can trace a reduction in the increase of non-UK EU nationals in general, and an actual decrease in those aged 34 or less, albeit from a high level.

    Brexit has still to happen. At present, nobody knows what specific arrangements will be in place from 2019. The terms of the agreement between the EU and the UK in EU research and student mobility schemes will dramatically affect the mid- and long-term capability of UK HE to attract and retain academics from the EU. The attractiveness of the system as a whole for students might also have an indirect impact on maintaining the number of non-UK EU nationals at UK universities. UK higher education is not benefitting from the uncertainty triggered by Brexit. A deal to enable academic staff mobility and to confirm the status of EU nationals who were residents at the date of the referendum is essential and urgent if the country’s HE sector is to continue to thrive.

    Immigration is like a super tanker, it takes time to turn round but all the signs are there that it is. As Brexit drags on and we still don’t reach a conclusion the pull of the UK will wane and immigration from the EU will fall, (who wants to move to a poor country, unless yours is even poorer) but perhaps raise from other countries.

  • RUVI ZIEGLER 14th Jun '18 - 1:29pm

    Dear Peter, I am afraid that I do not share your view that e.g. the reported sharp drop in successful bids by UK-based academics, with “millions of pounds [have been] lost as a result of a fall overall in Britain’s share of the flagship Horizon 2020 project” ( is ‘alarmist and anecdotal stuff’. The effect is already felt, despite the fact that we have not left yet. In this vein, I agree with Frankie re the importance of considering trends.
    I think it is fairly clear from the article which steps can mitigate the harm if we Brexit: offering unilateral guarantees of *all* existing rights for EU27 citizens already here, and retaining freedom of movement as part of an EEA or similar arrangement. The government is refusing to do the former, and is joined by the official opposition in rejecting the latter. I am glad to be a member of a party that supports both.

  • Peter Martin 15th Jun '18 - 8:27am

    @ Ruvi

    You say:

    “But the crux of the article is the effect on academia”

    Inevitably there will be some disruption as the UK leaves the EU. But there is no reason to expect that academia will be in a worse position generally after Brexit. The most likely outcome is that the UK will be Canada to the EU’s America. The USA and Canada are separate countries, with separate Parliaments. separate laws, and there’s no question of them ever sharing a common currency.

    Is there any evidence that Canada is in a worse position, with respect to its Academic or other institutions, from being separated from the USA in this way? There is no reason why a Canadian academic can’t take up a job offer in the USA and vice versa. There’s no reason why Canadian scientists can’t co-operate with US scientists. They can and they do. Just as UK scientists will co-operate with European scientists as they always have.

    If there is any problem with Canadian science or US science then its down to the respective governments to fix it. That will be the position in the UK after Brexit too.

  • RUVI ZIEGLER 15th Jun '18 - 8:47am

    Dear Peter, the fundamental difference, which makes the analogy problematic, is that Canada is not and was not part of the US and/or more closely attached to its research institutions. Not marrying is different than divorcing, as many before me have intimated in the Brexit debate. The relevant comparator is not other countries, but pre-Brexit UK academia; the relevant question is: due to leaving, will UK academia be worth off, at least in the short and medium term?

  • Peter Martin 15th Jun '18 - 9:43am

    @ Ruvi,

    I’m not sure that the UK and EU was ever in a “marriage”. The EEC was a collection of separate countries with separate currencies and separate governments. That worked well enough, so why change it? The Treaties of Maastricht and Lisbon did change everything though. The only conceivable reason for those two treaties was to pave the way for a United States of Europe. We probably should have had a referendum on those at the time. We just weren’t offered them.

    The question of UK now being part of the EU/USE, is therefore similar to asking if Canada should be part of the USA.

    There is quite a bit of support, ie 66%, for that idea. And the arguments are similar there to those we have here. ie A large single market with no borders and no bothersome changes of currency. But I suspect this is mainly from Americans and not so much from Canadians. Canadians don’t want to share a Parliament with Americans. They don’t want common laws, they don’t want to be subject to US courts, and they don’t want a common currency.

    But they do want a friendly political and trading arrangements. So, what’s wrong with that?

  • Andrew Melmoth 15th Jun '18 - 10:30am

    I work in medical research. I know talented scientists who have already left because of Brexit and others who are actively considering their options. Our ability to recruit is already diminished. It’s about time Leavers started living in the real world. Brexit is profoundly damaging to UK science.

  • It’s becoming clearer by the day what sort of country Britain is becoming in the Brexit era. It’s time for people to decide if it is the sort of country they want or voted for while there’s still time to reverse it. The Brexit brigade need some lessons in constitutional democracy and that they like all politicians are subservient to the people.

  • Peter Martin 16th Jun '18 - 7:31am

    @ Arnold Kiel,

    The UK has always been outward looking. The UK has been a trading nation and will be for the foreseeable future. That won’t change.

    But that doesn’t mean we have to be a part a trading bloc which is fast becoming a United States of Europe. The failing euro experiment can only be rescued by its creation. Sooner or later we have to decide if we are going to be a part of it all. It’s better to do it sooner than later.

    We’ll end up in a similar position to Canada which also doesn’t want to be a part of its larger Southern neighbour. It doesn’t want the same government, the same Parliament, the same laws, the same courts or the same dollar. Is it any worse off for that?

    It does want a friendly political and trading relationship. So what’s wrong with that?

  • Peter Martin 16th Jun '18 - 10:32am

    @ Arnold Kiel,

    There is the theory of the post-industrial society. The idea is that you don’t actually have to make anything anymore. It is hard to think of anyone I know who does work which involves actually making anything. Yet they seem to do as well as anyone. I should imagine if we took a survey of contributors to this site, hardly any of them would be working to make anything, either.

    I might say that I’m probably one of the few who has spent their working life in manufacturing industry. I’m not sure I would take the same career path if I were starting again now! I do, though, share your view that manufacturing industry shouldn’t be neglected. But, the EU isn’t much help in this respect.

    If JLR wants to up sticks and move to Slovakia there’s not a lot that can be done under EU rules to prevent that.

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