Job Worries over Brexit and EU Research Funding

'Should I stay or should I go now?'

After Brexit there are job worries and EU research funding. Emilia Wilton-Godberfforde is facing a big decision will she continue working as an academic in UK universities after Brexit?

She is British but her husband is French and they are worried about the uncertainty of their future status and what she calls rising “xenophobia”.

They also fear a loss of EU research funding will threaten university jobs.

The universities minister says UK access to EU research budgets will “remain unchanged” until at least 2020.

There are about 36,000 academics from European Union countries working in UK universities and there are others such as Ms Wilton-Godberfforde who have family links to European researchers and academics.

‘Wait and see’

EU nationals are about 17% of the UK’s academics and since the referendum there have been brain drain warnings from universities.

Margaret Gardner, vice-chancellor of Monash University, in Australia, recently said Australian universities were already poaching academics from the UK.

But so far the evidence doesn’t show an academic stampede. Instead, it suggests a picture of “wait and see”.

“We’re nervous. Nothing is made clear about our status. It’s promises and half-promises,” says Ms Wilton-Godberfforde, who has been a research fellow at the University of Cambridge and is teaching French language and literature for the Open University.

Her husband is a French, Cambridge-educated scientist and they have a young child – and the family is struggling with a sense that Brexit has made them feel “unwelcome”.

“It doesn’t feel like home,” she says.

It’s a conversation she says is running through universities – with European staff choosing whether to put down roots or to move away.

Research promise

If Ms Wilton-Godberfforde and her husband choose to stay in the UK, she doesn’t know what type of bureaucracy and uncertainty will surround their new status.

And she is “massively upset” at the sense that things are going backwards for her generation – and that barriers are being put up to her mobility.

“It feels like everything is shrinking, we’re penalised for looking outwards,” she says.

By contrast, Cambridge professor Robert Tombs is pro-Brexit and rejects the link between leaving the EU and xenophobia.

“Britain is not a xenophobic country,” he says in a podcast for a group putting the views of pro-Brexit academics.

“Race relations are much better than in most European countries which are solidly in support of the EU.

“There’s no simple co-relation between disliking foreigners and not liking the EU.”

There are, however, also job worries over Brexit and EU research funding.

And Dr Wilton-Godberfforde says she worries about academics “grappling for grants that no longer exist”.

The Universities Minister, Sam Gyimah this week gave assurances that UK universities would have the full benefits of the current research round, even though it stretches beyond the UK’s departure date from the EU.

Even if there was no deal, the UK government had promised to underwrite any commitments, he said, answering an MP’s question.

“This guarantees funding for UK participants in projects ongoing at the point of exit,” said Mr Gyimah.

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