Sharp rise in European academics fleeing UK prompts calls to guarantee EU citizen rights to stem Brexit brain drain

Over the past two years there has been a 30 percent increase in EU staff leaving the country, data from dozens of universities reveals.

The data, released after a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, shows that Cambridge was one of the universities most affected by EU staff losses.

The renowned institution lost 184 European staff during the last year, up 35 percent on 2014/15, while Edinburgh lost 96 EU staff compared to 62 in 2014/15. However the figures do not reflect the number of new EU arrivals over the same period.

The FOI request by the Liberal Democrats showed that 1,393 EU staff left from 64 British universities over the past year. Although many have departed due to natural turnover, there are fears that Theresa May’s refusal to guarantee the rights of EU citizens is harming staff retention.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said if he is elected Prime Minister one of his first actions will be to guarantee the rights of EU citizens residing in the UK.

General secretary of the University and College Union, Sally Hunt, said: “These findings are worrying and highlight how damaging the government’s refusal to guarantee the rights of EU staff can be. Theresa May may wish to style herself as the strong and stable candidate, but she is creating dangerous insecurity in our universities.

“By its very nature, higher education is international, and the exchange of knowledge across borders is critical to its success. If we are to preserve our global reputation for excellence, our universities must be unencumbered when it comes to attracting and retaining overseas staff and students.”

Recent analysis by the Russell Group, which represents 24 of Britain’s leading research universities, found that EU citizens make up 23 percent of academics in the UK.

Russell Group acting director, Tim Bradshaw, said: “Students, lecturers, researchers and professional services staff from across Europe have helped make our higher education sector a world leader.

“We want them to stay after the UK leaves the EU. We need an immigration system that lets us recruit and retain the best minds from around the globe.

“We have called on the government to guarantee that EU citizens living and working in the UK will be able to stay and the rights they have at present will be respected. International staff and students are our number one Brexit priority bar none.”