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24th November 2016

Government urged to not use EU university staff as “bargaining chips”

In light of Brexit, EU nationals are facing insecurity and feel as if they are being used as ‘pawns’ in negotiations by Theresa May

Academics and MPs have issued a warning to Theresa May to stop using EU researchers as ‘pawns’ in Brexit negotiations.

A protest held in London on the 19th of November organised by the National Union of Students to protest the Higher Education Bill, which could allow tuition fees to rise above the current cap of £9,000 per year, was also attended by academics, students and scientific researchers from several institutions to call out May’s recent claim that EU nationals “cannot expect to be protected without reciprocal arrangements”.

Academic leaders,  such as the General Secretary of the University and College Union (UCU) Sally Hunt, called out May at the protest and told her to “stop using EU staff and students as pawns in Brexit negotiations”.

She added that May needs to “show some humanity. Do the decent thing. Give our people the right to stay”, and critiqued the way in which “people’s lives” were being used as “bargaining chips in a broader political landscape”.

Figures suggest there has been a significant decrease in those applying to UK universities and for jobs in academia this year following the referendum.

Since the EU referendum, it has been reported in The Independent that pro-remain Scientists for the EU have been “collecting evidence that many EU researchers and lecturers have been turning down or withdrawing their applications to work in the UK”.

However, scientists in favour of Brexit, speaking to The Telegraph, think that “Brexit simply offers a far brighter future for research and education. The vote also means that we shall escape deeply detrimental present and planned expansions of the EU’s power”.

The Science and Technology Committee however has announced that immediate action is needed, releasing a report on the implications for science and research following the EU referendum result.

Proffessor Ottoline Leyser, representing the Royal Society, has said: “There has been a lot of discussion about non-UK EU nationals currently working in the UK and what guarantees can be provided to them.

“I think it is absolutely not the way we should be proceeding – to use people’s lives as bargaining chips in a broader political landscape.

“I do not think that is a constructive way to arrive at a negotiation table either.”

The committees report, calls for “an immediate commitment to exempt them [EU researchers working in the UK] from Brexit negotiations on any reciprocal immigration controls for workers already in post”.

According to Professor Philip Nelson of Research Councils UK, “the biggest risks to the research base in the UK are around the people involved”.

The committee has revealed that it has evidence that researchers are turning down offers of work in the UK, due to the levels of uncertainty after the vote for Brexit.

“It is not really a question of us allowing talented scientists and engineers to come here; it is about us fighting for them to come here.

“There is an international competitive market for these fantastically talented people”, according to Dr Sarah Main of the Campaign for Science and Engineering.

Dr Main adds that in order for the UK to remain within this competitive market, the government needs to clearly state its priorities “for the place of science in our future” and “how it feels about the people that it wants to come here”.

University vice-chancellors have said it is crucial that international students and staff are free to come to the UK without unnecessary restrictions.

Jo Johnson, the Universities and Science Minister has stated that the government “intend to secure the best possible outcome for our research base as we exit the European Union. The excellence of our research and the attractiveness of the UK as a place to do it are fundamental to our continued success.

“Our international relationships make us a global centre of excellence.”

Nicola Dandridge, University UK chief executive has supported the report’s recommendation that a chief scientific advisor needs to be appointed to the Department for Exiting the EU. “This would help to ensure that the significant implications of leaving the EU for science and research were adequately reflected in the government’s post-exit plans.”

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