News & Insights

Expat exodus causing a major problem for British universities

What is the Brexit brain drain?

The term simply refers to talented non UK citizens who are working in the country and who are now leaving because they are uncertain if they’ll have a future in the country after Brexit. And when they go, they will leave a big hole in the sectors to which they have contributed. Jonathan Beech, managing director of immigration law firm Migrate UK, has warned that the IT, finance, and engineering sectors are among the most likely to experience a drainage of expertise.

One sector in particular has already seen a mass exodus – education.

According to data released under the Freedom of Information Act, more than 1,300 academics left British universities in the last year – that’s an increase of 30 per cent in departures of EU staff.

The figures, which it should be noted do not account for new EU staff arriving, show that some of the UK’s top educational institutions are among the most affected. Cambridge lost 184 staff (an increase of 35 per cent from 2014-15) and Edinburgh lost 96 staff (an increase of 62 per cent).

The Russell Group represents 24 leading UK universities and has found in a recent analysis that 23 per cent of all academics are from other EU countries. As has become clear, British educational institutions are largely dependent on gifted individuals immigrating to the UK.

Highlighting international students and teachers as the “number one Brexit priority bar none”, the Russell Group’s acting director, Tim Bradshaw, has called on the government to guarantee the rights of EU citizens as soon as possible.

“Students, lecturers, researchers and professional services staff from across Europe have helped make our higher education sector a world leader,” Bradshaw said. “We need an immigration system that lets us recruit and retain the best minds from around the globe.”

Taking the talent back

As for those leaving, their talents will of course go elsewhere, and some areas are using this as an opportunity to attract back those they lost to the UK. For instance, Spain’s Basque Country.

Located in Northern Spain, the Basque Country is one of Spain’s most thriving regions. When high level Spanish unemployment descended , young graduates – many with science, technology, and engineering qualifications – left to find work in more stable environments. Many ended up in the UK, where workers with skills in those sectors are much needed. But now Brexit, as well as the strengthening Spanish economy, has led to experts believing that Basque natives may well return home.

Ivan Jimenez, the head of Bizkaia Talent, an organisation aiming to retain talent in the Basque Country, believes this to be the case.

“What I see clearly is that [Brexit] is accelerating the process to come back,” Jimenez said. “Even if people have already thought about it, those people who have been in the UK for eight to ten years are saying OK, now that’s enough.”

Of course, the reverse is also true, with talented British expats unsure whether they’ll be able to continue living and working overseas after Brexit and some countries have tried to prevent young British expats who work and contribute to their economy from leaving.

For instance, the German Vice President Sigmar Gabriel, realising that it was mainly older voters who voted Leave in last year’s referendum, has campaigned for Germany to offer dual citizenship to young Britons who voted to stay in the EU. Currently, anyone applying for German citizenship must renounce their old citizenship, but Gabriel thinks the time has come for this change and to look at citizenship on a case-by-case basis, saying, “We shouldn’t just pull up the drawbridge. Europe is the best place in the world for freedom, democracy and the chance of social progress.”

How can the UK block the brain drain?

It’s important for the new British government, if they do not want to continue losing the many highly skilled EU citizens, to adopt a similar attitude and show support and respect to those whose futures are still lying in the balance.

In the meantime, if you are an expat considering your future, having strong financial health is always vital. While Brexit has and will continue to create many uncertainties for both UK expats living in EU member countries and EU expats living in the UK, you can at least be sure your finances are in the best position possible by receiving bespoke expat financial services.

Blacktower’s financial advisers offer a range of expat financial services, including help with effective tax planning and advice during Brexit, to help you safeguard your future as much as possible.

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