The overwhelming majority of academics voted to Remain in the EU and now fear the consequences of leavingMax Pixel

The vast majority of academics working in the UK think that Brexit will have a negative impact on UK higher education, according to a YouGov survey commissioned by the University and College Union (UCU). 

The survey also found that a majority of the 1064 academics who were surveyed believe that three of the four main provisions of the Higher Education and Research Bill currently before Parliament will have a negative impact on the higher education sector, and a large number believe that all four will.

The survey asked university professors and lecturers a series of questions about their opinions on the impact of Britain’s departure from the EU, and on the government’s proposed Higher Education and Research Bill.

In response to a question about the impact of Brexit on the UK higher education sector, 90 per cent of academics said that they thought it would have a negative impact overall. 81 per cent said that they had voted to Remain, while just 8 per cent had voted to Leave.

The survey also asked its respondents whether they thought it more or less likely that they would leave the UK to continue their career after the Brexit vote. 42 per cent of British academics thought that they were ‘more likely to consider leaving’, with three-quarters of continental EU academics saying the same.

Additionally, almost a third of respondents said they already knew of academics leaving the UK to continue their career elsewhere since the UK voted to leave the EU on 23rd June 2016. 44 per cent said they knew of academics who had lost access to research funding since the vote.

These responses have intensified fears that the Brexit vote will result in a ’brain drain’ of UK universities. Concerns have been expressed that the UK leaving the EU will make British universities less attractive for academics of all nationalities due to a drop in available research funding and opportunities.

“The findings of the YouGov/UCU survey reflect the uncertainties surrounding the prospect of the UK’s exit from the European Union... the University of Cambridge has urged the UK Government to recognise the economic and educational benefit of free movement of talent, to clarify the status of EU staff working in the UK as a matter of priority, and to remove international students from any net migration target.

“It has called on the Government to consider a transitional arrangement to enable UK universities to continue to attract and retain talented EEA and third country staff, and to protect researcher mobility. It has also asked that the government recognise the value of the Erasmus programme by including continued involvement in Erasmus as part of any agreement over the future relationship with the EU.”

The survey also asked academics about the impact of the government’s proposed Higher Education and Research Bill. Of the respondents, three-quarters thought that the government’s proposal to link the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) to tuition fee increases in line with inflation would have a negative effect on UK higher education. This is a response to the government’s plan to rank institutions on the basis of metrics like student satisfaction, graduate employment and dropout rates and then allow institutions ranked highly enough to increase their fees.

These proposed changes have come under much criticism from various bodies including the National Union of Students (NUS), the Russell Group. The University of Cambridge has also voiced its opposition to many of the proposals. The NUS has called on finalist students to boycott the National Student Survey (NSS) - a call provisionally echoed by CUSU - in order to prevent rises in tuition fees under the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), which would allow universities which rank highly in the NSS to increase their fees.

76 per cent of academics thought that linking the TEF to tuition fee rises would have a negative impact on the higher education sector, while 81 per cent thought the same of the proposal to make it easier for alternative providers to become universities and award degrees.

49 per cent thought that removing the role of the Privy Council in bestowing degree-awarding powers, a role which would be passed to the Office for Students under the Bill, would have a negative impact, the idea of merging all of the UK’s research councils into one body was thought likely to have a negative impact by 53 per cent.

The survey also asked respondents for their view on the efficacy of the metrics which under the TEF will be used to rank universities. 63 per cent said student satisfaction would be an ineffective or very ineffective measure of teaching quality, with 59 per cent and 55 per cent saying the same about dropout rates and graduate employment respectively.

Speaking to Varsity, a spokesperson for the Cambridge branch of the UCU said: “”Like the vast majority of UK academics, Cambridge UCU has grave concerns about both the proposed Higher Education Bill and the potential impact of Brexit on universities and colleges, including Cambridge.

“The result of the EU Referendum and the Government’s commitment to a tight Brexit timetable have both created considerable uncertainty in higher education, and the Government’s ill-thought-through HE Bill promises only to add to the uncertainty.”

They demanded “clearer reassurances to European employees and research partners” and “firmer commitments to the many EU nationals working in UK higher education that they will be permitted to remain after Brexit”.

Referring to the Higher Education Bill, they said: “Opening up Higher Education to private providers and modelling the educational relationship on that between a business and its customers will threaten the idea of higher education as a public good and of universities as publicly responsible institutions.”

They added that the metrics of the TEF “have little to do with teaching quality, and much more to do with forcing universities to substitute for proper training by employers, at students’ expense. They are also liable to reward those universities who recruit applicants who are already highly employable, and punish those who do the most to add value and improve students’ life chances, as well as those whose students go on to less lucrative, but no less valuable professions.”

Asked for the University’s view on the findings regarding the Higher Education Bill, a University spokesperson told Varsity: “The University has engaged fully in the HE&R Bill consultation process, and has already decided that it will participate in Years One and Two of the Teaching Excellence Framework.

“The University welcomes the Government’s desire to recognise excellent teaching in universities, and is supportive of a higher education system that embeds principles of diversity, choice and quality.”

The Bill has met with opposition in the House of Lords, which on Monday defeated the government over amendments proposed by Labour to define the nature of a university, safeguard universities’ autonomy, and remove the profit motive from the reforms.

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