This is a companion question to Why is Brexit bad for British science? Judging from the responses to that question, a significant number of academics are unhappy with Brexit and are not intending to stay in the country for the long term. The implication is that it's become easier to get a British academic position, since there are fewer people interested. Is this borne out in actual data? I'm particularly interested in whether the number of applicants for faculty positions / postdocs dropped, and if so by how much.

The closest thing I've seen to this is Royal Society president Venkatraman Ramakrishnan saying they have anecdotal evidence of people not wanting to come / wanting to leave, but no statistical evidence. It seems to me it should be possible to get that statistical evidence, e.g. universities probably keep a record of applicants for each position, so if there's a change in number after 2016 it should be noticeable. There was no drop in international student applications, but it's not obvious if that also applies to faculty positions.

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    And experience from, eg the 2008 financial crash, shows that it will take time (2-3 years) for even a major financial shock to have a clear impact on academic finances. Add to that the effect of existing austerity measures, I don't think the impact will be clear until after 2021.
    – Ian
    Jul 24, 2018 at 10:00
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    It may be worth revisiting this question in 5 years. Jul 24, 2018 at 10:04
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    My impression is that the long-term trend is one of increasing competition for positions. Thus it may be that Brexit causes a deceleration of this rate of change, without actually changing the sign of the trend. Given the noise one might expect in any data (e.g. due to local factors), I suspect it will be difficult to pull anything convincing out until significantly more time has elapsed.
    – avid
    Jul 24, 2018 at 13:19
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    The first thing I think when I read the question is "Huh. Easier for whom?" While I don't know anything about free positions to applicants ratio ("easier" in the sense of the question), I have noticed that our international hires rushed to start before January 2021, during the worst of the pandemic, implying that the immigration part would be "harder" for them post-Brexit. On the other hand, I have friends from different South American locations rejoicing that they are finally "on a level playground" with everybody else, implying that it got easier for them.
    – penelope
    May 7, 2021 at 8:54

4 Answers 4


Fro the anecdotal evidence referred to by Venkatraman Ramakrishnan it appears that there are people who do not want to come to the UK post-Brexit. In your question you are implying a conjecture that the number of applications will fall and there will be easier to get an academic job in the UK.

The conjecture seems wrong to me. You seem to ignore the fact that the number of jobs in academia is not constant. Many jobs are funded by research councils in the UK but also EU councils like ERC. If this funding is going to reduce, so will the pool of available jobs.

Teaching-focused academic staff are funded by the Universities directly and this funding depends on student recruitment numbers. There is a certain rise in the numbers currently following the cap lifting in 2014 but it won't last forever and can't compensate for the expected reduction in EU student numbers.

Even if Universities disclose their records of application numbers for the academic posts (which is not likely), this information has to be compared also with the number of posts being advertised. Bear in mind also that with pound weakening, UK jobs are becoming less attractive for overseas applicants even on purely financial grounds.

To summarise, it is possible that the application numbers reduce and it becomes harder to secure an academic job post-Brexit.

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    A further complication here: economic uncertainty/downturn tends to reduce self-attrition in the workforce. People who might otherwise have retired, taken time out for parenting, or shifted from full-time to part-time work, decide that it's too much of a financial risk, and hang on to what they have. This reduces the rate at which existing positions become vacant.
    – G_B
    Jul 24, 2018 at 13:11
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    I would argue that it is re-balancing away from EU budget towards global market. Between India, China, and Southeast Asia, there are tens of millions of students who have UK as their #1 choice for their university destination. Most of them don't plan to stay in UK after they obtain their degree. In fact, many can find higher paying jobs back in their fast growing economies with a UK degree. High tuition/living costs and visa requirements hold them back. Hundreds of my Chinese students would like to go to UK for masters. I've yet to meet one who wants to study in Germany or France Jul 25, 2018 at 3:02
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    @ArthurTarasov China already provides UK more students than EU: hesa.ac.uk/data-and-analysis/students/where-from Jul 26, 2018 at 4:58
  • 'if Universities disclose their records of application numbers for the academic posts (which is not likely)' Some may include this information in their Athena Swan application documents. May 7, 2021 at 8:04
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    @DanielHatton Athena Swan application documents are not public documents - the information in them is not easily accessible to public. May 7, 2021 at 16:08

Kind of anacdata, but since brexit, at faculty level, we have had:

  • Two staff members move to the EU saying they were fed up of the UK
  • 4 staff members retire
  • We've advertised for one new post - but didn't get anyone we thought good enough, so didn't appoint.

Sub faculty level, I've advertised for two postdocs. One of which was filled by a European, and the other of we decided to re-advertise (still not filled at time of writing).

While by no means good data to answer the question, it does demonstrate two things - that the UK academic workforce can, and probably is, reducing and that not getting good EU candidates does not mean hiring a british person, it can just mean not hiring.

  • Perhaps implicit, but... do you sense a change compared to pre-Brexit?
    – avid
    Jun 17, 2021 at 18:08
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    Well, the two people leaving becuase they were fed up cited Brexit. Other than that... I couldn't say, other than we've never failed to appoint a lecturer before. Jun 17, 2021 at 18:15
  • We've advertised for one new post - but didn't get anyone we thought good enough, so didn't appoint. Did you get fewer applications, or was the quality of the applicants lower than previous?
    – Allure
    Jun 18, 2021 at 5:49
  • I don't now about the faculty positions, as I only get to know about the ones selected for interview. For the postdoc, we got plenty of applicants. Jun 18, 2021 at 9:41

This is purely anecdotal, so probably not what OP is looking for, but I think it's interesting... I've fairly frequently applied for academic jobs in the UK both before and after the Brexit referendum. I didn't notice a statistically significant change in my success rate, but I did notice a change in the typical eventual outcome of the recruitment processes where I was unsuccessful. Before the referendum, I was mostly being beaten by an empty chair, i.e. the recruiting university decided not to fill the position or to re-advertise it; after the referendum, the positions were mostly being filled by a candidate who already held a more senior position elsewhere, i.e. someone who was already a Reader or Senior Lecturer at one university applying for a Lecturer position at another university.

  • Why would someone who already holds a more senior position elsewhere "apply down"?
    – Allure
    May 7, 2021 at 3:06
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    @Allure I wasn't the one who did it, so I can only speculate, but possibilities that occur include 1. Wanting to move to an institution with a higher research-to-teaching ratio (strongly enough to accept the drop in salary) 2. Programme of voluntary redundancies at the origin institution making available a lump sum that more than compensates for the drop in salary, so the complete sequence of actions is economically rational 3. Destination instititution is in a location that's nearer to family/prettier/has better entertainment scene (by big enough margin to accept the drop in salary). May 7, 2021 at 7:25
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    Or 4. Not enjoying additional management responsibilities associated with being a Senior Lecturer/Reader. May 7, 2021 at 7:54
  • Given variations in living costs between major cities (especially London) and other areas, it's entirely possible to move, drop a pay grade, and yet have substantially more disposable income (and a better quality of life).
    – avid
    Jun 17, 2021 at 18:12
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    @avid True, but the particular downshifters I observed were definitely relocating in a direction of increasing accommodation costs. Jun 17, 2021 at 18:32

It looks like the answer is "no". There were shifts in demand, but academic jobs remain highly competitive.

  • Interest from Europeans cratered
  • Interest from the rest of the world held steady, even increased from some regions (countries named are India, Hong Kong, Nigeria, Pakistan and Ireland)
  • The increase in interest from the rest of the world did not compensate for the decrease in EU interest for low-paid jobs
  • But this doesn't apply for high-paid jobs

Mathematics, which includes analyst and data scientist jobs, is in second place for attracting foreign workers. Engineering, architecture, scientific research, banking and finance, and media and communications roles also attract high levels of interest from overseas.


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    I'm not sure this article is about academia. The words "university", "academic", "faculty", or "lecturer", don't even appear.
    – N.I.
    Jun 17, 2021 at 15:03
  • @N.I. there's the word "scientific research" in the quote.
    – Allure
    Jun 17, 2021 at 22:55
  • Are you aware that scientific research is also performed outside of academia? The description of "mathematics" as containing "analyst and data scientist jobs" is quite telling.
    – N.I.
    Jun 18, 2021 at 8:03
  • @N.I. sure, but scientific research is also performed within academia, so it's a reasonable to infer that if scientific research is attracting high levels of interest from overseas, so is academia.
    – Allure
    Jun 18, 2021 at 8:07
  • Also, relatively speaking academic jobs are clearly high-paid jobs.
    – Allure
    Jun 18, 2021 at 8:40

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