Fresh analysis of data highlights the "unprecedented challenges" facing UK Higher Education following the changed UK-EU relationship

5 Aug 2021

The latest data on EU staff and students in Higher Education in the UK highlight the "unprecedented challenge" ahead if we are to continue to attract and retain such numbers in future as a non-EU member state, finds a new briefing by the British Academy.

The briefing, which looks at the latest available data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), shows that in 2019-2020, on average 17% of all Higher Education staff and around 6% of all students in the UK were EU nationals.

The Academy highlights that changes to tuition fee status and eligibility for student loans as a result of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, as well as changes to the immigration system, amount to an unprecedented challenge for the UK’s universities.

The briefing, EU higher education staff and students in the UK, finds that SHAPE disciplines (Social Sciences, Humanities and the Arts for People and the Economy) will be particularly affected. In 2019-2020, four of the top five disciplines with the highest shares of EU higher education staff were in SHAPE disciplines. These were Modern languages (36%), Economics & econometrics (36%), Classics (30%) and Politics and international studies (26%).

The Academy also highlights the loss of opportunity for inward student and staff mobility following the replacement of Erasmus+ with the new Turing scheme, which only facilitates outward student mobility. Erasmus+ has been pivotal to the UK’s ability to attract EU higher education students and staff, especially in modern languages. In 2018-2019, a total of 30,501 students came to the UK through the Erasmus+ programme to study or complete an internship, while 4,090 higher education staff members came to the UK from EU countries.

Professor Simon Goldhill FBA, Foreign Secretary of the British Academy, said:

“EU staff and students make an invaluable contribution to the academic, intellectual, and cultural vibrancy of the UK and freedom of movement within the EU for researchers has offered a particular competitive advantage to SHAPE subjects. Now that the UK has left the EU, changes to the funding landscape and framework for the circulation of ideas and talent may impact the UK’s ability to attract and retain UK and EU higher education staff and students as well as challenge its ambition to be a science superpower.

“If the UK wishes to boost its international collaborations and networks, then the UK’s immigration system must provide long-term stability and certainty for those wishing to come and work here, and avoid closing down such opportunities and raising burdens and barriers for what is required. The government must also strengthen outward mobility, which is critical to developing research networks and partnerships, widening research dissemination and improving the overall health and liveliness of UK higher education institutions.”

Professor Neil Kenny FBA, Languages Lead at the British Academy, said:

“The Erasmus+ programme played a crucial role in attracting EU higher education staff to the UK. These individuals are essential to teaching in a wide range of subjects but particularly in modern languages - 36% of staff in modern language departments hail from an EU member country. For students seeking to improve their language skills as well as their cultural awareness and agility, learning from and interacting with a native speaker is invaluable.

“Although the establishment of the Turing Scheme – the replacement for the Erasmus+ programme – will help to maintain student mobility within and beyond the EU, it currently does not include funding for incoming higher education staff. The government must therefore find ways to facilitate the circulation of talent and ideas including for short-term mobility, or we could be looking at a serious shortage of staff in these vital subjects.”

The briefing contributes to the British Academy’s role in delivering a SHAPE observatory, which monitors the health and development of the humanities and social sciences at system-wide and discipline specific levels.

Contact the press office

For further information contact the Press Office on [email protected]  / 020 7969 5273 / 07500 010 432.

Sign up to our email newsletters