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Brexit uncertainty affecting HE, FE staff morale

The annual Higher Education Workforce Survey produced by the Universities and Colleges Employers Association in the UK shows the uncertainty of EU citizens’ rights in the country is impacting workplace moods.

UK Universities' EU staff are unsure of their future despite government 'offer'UK universities' EU staff's morale has been damaged by uncertainty caused by Brexit. Photo:

The falling value of the pound has affected recruitment for high level positions

Only 8.4% of respondents to the UCEA survey of 71 HE and FE institutions said the vote to leave the EU had a negative impact on the institution’s ability to retain staff, but the report notes “uncertainty as to the future status of EU staff has been damaging to morale”.

The falling value of the pound has also affected some institutions’ ability to recruit for high level positions.

Though the referendum result has not had a significant effect on staff recruitment over the past 14 months, respondents were unclear about how the HE sector will be affected after the UK officially leaves the EU in March 2019.

“High level academic appointments where global expertise is limited to a small pool of mobile talent have been affected”

“The truth of the matter is that we don’t have any facts to base worries on, we only have media speculation and we’re trying to take the stance of ‘let’s just wait’,” one institution told UCEA.

The decision to leave has, however, had a knock-on effect on the pound, and the paper notes that the weakened buying power of the UK currency has led to the falling competitiveness of UK HE salaries. The report said this has already affected some high level recruitment efforts.

“Some roles that have been affected have been high level academic appointments where global expertise is limited to a small pool of mobile talent,” the document explains.

The issue of retention and recruitment arises again due to the potential for onerous or expensive immigration processes which the UK government may ask EU citizens to complete, whether they currently reside in the UK or not.

The Home Office policy paper explains that although any EU citizen who has lived in the UK for five years by the as yet to be determined cut-off date will be allowed to remain as a “settled” resident, they will have to register with the government within two years of the UK’s exit from the bloc.

Furthermore, EU citizens who arrive before the cut-off will also be allowed to remain, and can apply for the ‘settled status’ once they have accumulated the five years residency.

However, while negotiations continue, there has been no announcement from the UK government on immigration arrangements EU citizens and employers will have to traverse after the 2019 departure date.

Alistair Jarvis, the then acting chief executive at Universities UK, responded to the report by blaming a lacklustre effort on the government’s side for the continuing staff nervousness.

“This survey highlights the need to provide certainty on work and residency rights for all EU staff currently working in UK universities. The government’s initial offer did not go far enough in providing the certainty and welcome that our European staff deserve,” he said.

“To have further restrictions in terms of EU nationals is going to put a huge administrative burden on the university”

One Scottish institution remarked that immigration restrictions are already constrictive, and having to go through the same process for EU employees will put a strain on university administrators.

“We are already quite restricted in terms of immigration for Tier 2 visas [for skilled workers] and limited in getting people with the skills who often aren’t UK citizens so to have further restrictions in terms of EU nationals is going to put a huge administrative burden on the university,” the institution told UCEA.

A government spokesperson said it is committed to the HE sector, and continues to engage with organisations and institutions as Brexit negotiations continue.

The spokesperson added that the ideal outcome for the UK government is a mutually beneficial agreement for UK and EU citizens.

“We have been clear about our commitment to the UK’s world-class higher education sector.

“The government wants to reach a reciprocal agreement for EU citizens in Britain and UK nationals in Europe as quickly as possible. We are developing a new application process and will ensure that it is as light-touch, streamlined and user-friendly as possible.”

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