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Threat of Brexit causes academic brain drain

By JULIAN SHEA | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-12-04 10:24

High numbers of EU staff quit UK institutions, with tech sector also hit

Figures released by British universities have revealed that even before Britain has left the European Union, the prospect of Brexit is taking its toll on the country's academic institutions with almost 11,000 EU staff having left jobs in the United Kingdom since the 2016 referendum.

A Brexit related sign is seen above the entrance to a bar in Manchester, Britain November 22 2019. [Photo/Agencies]

The information was obtained by the Liberal Democrats from 81 of the 136 members of higher education representative body Universities UK, and shows that in the year 2018-19, 4,014 staff left their posts, an increase of 31 percent on the previous year, and 40 percent higher than in 2014-15.

In addition, the Royal Society, the country's leading scientific academic association, said in October that the UK's share of funding given out each year by the EU has fallen by almost one-third since 2015.

"Our universities are being threatened by a Brexit brain drain, exacerbated by Boris Johnson's reckless promise to crash us out of the EU by 2020 no matter the cost," said the Lib Dems' Education Spokeswoman Layla Moran, adding that the situation was "deeply concerning".

"This is sadly not surprising given the Tory party has adopted the xenophobic rhetoric of (Brexit Party leader) Nigel Farage, making our colleagues, friends and family from the EU feel unwelcome."

Some of the institutions most heavily hit by the so-called 'Brexit brain drain' include Oxford, which has lost 1,515 EU academics, Edinburgh with 1,271 and Cambridge, which has seen 1,292 staff depart. These figures from the world of academia back up concerns expressed earlier in the year by a survey carried out by cloud-based software company Salesforce. com which found similar worries in the world of business, with just more than half of companies questioned fearing a brain drain, which would be particularly damaging to the tech sector.

Tech is one of Britain's most successful fields of expertise and investment, with figures from the Mayor of London's office revealing that in the first six months of 2019, London-based companies attracted a record 2.56 billion pounds ($3.3 billion) in venture capital, more than double Berlin's figure.

"There's no doubt the economy is changing as new technologies emerge," said Salesforce UK's executive Vice-President Paul Smith.

"As business leaders, it's clear that we need to do more to show people how reskilling and gaining new tech qualifications, often with free courses and accessible tools, is easier than many think."

Salesforce figures showed that 54 percent of business leaders intended to solve the problem by developing more of their own tech talent, and the same figure also planned to put greater effort into upskilling older workers with skills in new technology.

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