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The number of UK academic staff from the European Union has fallen for the second year in a row, new figures show.
It has been warned that such a fall – which has been linked to Brexit – could leave a “lasting imprint” on the country’s research environment.
The Higher Education Statistics Authority (Hesa) figures also show the proportion of black professors remains “appallingly low”.
A total of 233,930 academic staff were employed in the UK at the start of December last year – 37,995 of whom came from the EU, according to the first release of Hesa staff data for 2021-22. This was down 1 per cent from 38,230 in 2020-21, and below the peak of 38,410 recorded in 2019-20.
Workers from the bloc make up 16.4 per cent of all staff, compared with 17.3 per cent two years previously. At the same time, the number of non-EU staff continues to grow, and they now make up more than a sixth of all academics. There were 36,115 academics from outside the EU recorded in the most recent year’s data – up 8.6 per cent on 2020-21, and 54.6 per cent on 2014-15.
Before Brexit, EU academics and researchers perceived the UK as a leading destination for a fulfilling career, Vassiliki Papatsiba, a reader in social sciences at Cardiff University, told Times Higher Education. She said the UK’s declining appeal to EU academics since then is demonstrated by the large number of European Research Council award holders who have left the UK, as the country remains locked out of Horizon Europe.
Other reasons could include fewer EU research opportunities, a decrease in EU research student numbers, and “possibly a dented reputation of the UK as an open and welcoming country, at least in the eyes of EU people who could avail of free mobility”, she said.
“The effects of Brexit on academic and research staff demographics in the UK are likely to be a slow burn before we start observing that incremental changes do lead to deeper changes,” Dr Papatsiba added.
“Brexit is having a significant impact on the flow of skilled EU academics and researchers, in terms of numbers and status, and is likely to leave a lasting imprint in the UK’s research environment.”
The Hesa figures exclude those on atypical contracts, which are “generally non-permanent contracts for short, one-off, or as-and-when tasks”.
The numbers of EU academic staff classed as professors (3,740) or as other senior academics (525) are both increasing. However, the number recorded as on other contract levels – who make up the vast majority of the cohort – fell from 34,185 to 33,730 year-on-year.
The statistics also show that 165 black professors were working in 2021-22 – just 0.8 per cent of all UK professors who declared their ethnicity, and unchanged from the proportion the year before. No black professors are recorded as working in higher education in Northern Ireland.
Overall, 88 per cent of UK professors were white, 7.8 per cent Asian, 1.7 per cent mixed ethnicity and 1.8 per cent were another ethnicity.
Akwugo Emejulu, professor of sociology at the University of Warwick, said the “appallingly” low figures show the durability of discrimination that black academics face.
She said colleagues who do all the right things are consistently passed over for promotions as others are perceived as a better fit for the culture of a given department.
“Every time these dire figures are published, there are vague noises about reform, but nothing changes and no real substantive action is taken by employers or learned societies,” she added. “The lack of action tells the tale.”
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