Campaign for Social Science Report Argues for International Staff Safety Net

Three out of every 10 academics working in UK universities, finds a new report from the Campaign for Social Science, are nationals or originally from a country outside the United Kingdom (60 percent from the European economic area. This influx, according to the advocacy organization, is a key element allowing Britain to “punch above its weight as a research nation” and therefore any diminution of this flow – say, as a result of Brexit – is a metter of concern.

A World of Talent: International Staff at UK Universities & the Future Migration System, the latest report from the Campaign for Social Science, examines the number and distribution of international staff at UK universities with a special focus on the social sciences.

World of Talent cover
Click image to download ‘A World of Talent’

“This report,” said Ashley Lenihan, the campaign’s senior policy adviser and the report’s author (with Sharon Witherspoon), “shows just how important it is for the government to create a post-Brexit migration and visa system that will allow UK universities to continue to recruit the skills and knowledge they need from abroad if the UK is to maintain a world class higher education system.”

While the proportion of international academic staff is greatest in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines, the social sciences still see 29 percent of its staff from outside the UK. Some 61 percent% of academic staff in economics are of international origin, as are 54 percent in finance, 46 percent in development studies, and 43 percent in politics. Overall, 14 out of 31 social science disciplines have more than 30 percent of their regular academic staff holding international passports.

While international staff are particularly prevalent in the London area, in 10 out of 12 UK regions, international citizens make up over 30 percent of permanent academic social science staff London and the South End rank high for international staff, with 46 percent, the highest percentage is found in Northern Ireland, at 48 percent.

The levels of international-origin staff on fixed-term contracts are higher than those on open-ended or permanent contracts among academic social science staff at Russell Group universities in two thirds of UK regions.

A World of Talent makes it clear that universities in all UK regions will be affected by any substantial changes in their ability to recruit talent and skills from abroad. It discusses the implications of its findings for a post-Brexit migration and visa system and acknowledges that no broad subject area is immune to the risk of losing high-quality academic staff of international origin. Apart from subject-area concerns, the report argues that the grand challenges posed for the UK may not be met should there be an exodus of quality expatriates available.

[I]nput will be needed from planners and geographers on issues such as achieving more even economic growth and development – disciplines whose UK-based academics are 23% and 27% of international origin respectively. Research will be required from sociologists (28% international-origin) and psychologists (27% international-origin) on the behavioural and attitudinal changes underpinning issues like better ageing and improving health and social care. Advice will be needed from business (35% international-origin), management (32% international-origin) and economics (61% international-origin) academics on issues like work quality and enhancing productivity.

A World of Talent proposes some policies on migration and the visa system to prevent a brain drain. These include lifting the £30,000 threshold for fixed-term university positions, avoiding any cap – or subject-specific limitation — on the number of skilled workers coming to the UK, and ensuring that existing European economic area nationals already working in UK universities receive fair treatment post-Brexit.

The campaign plans to produce two further reports as part of our wider project on this topic.  The first will examine case studies of UK centers of social science excellence, such as the Q-Step centers and others, that draw heavily on international talent and skills.  The second will delve deeper into the national composition of university staff by their reported ‘cost centers’ at universities – rather than the disciplines in which they currently teach.

Addressing the current report, campaign chair Shamit Saggar CBE FAcSS, said it “shows the extent of this interdependence in our world-class social sciences, and makes the case for a flexible and streamlined visa system that will allow UK universities to recruit staff to maintain our continued excellence.”

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