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Academics' survey shows little support for HE Bill amid Brexit brain drain fears

9 January 2017

Four in five academics (81%) believe government plans to give new providers easier access to degree-awarding powers and a university title will have a negative impact on UK higher education, a survey by YouGov for UCU has revealed.

The survey asked over 1,000 lecturers and professors in UK higher education about the impact of the Higher Education and Research Bill and Brexit on the sector.

Three-quarters of survey respondents (76%) also said the bill's plan to link the Teaching Excellence Framework (Tef) to tuition fees would have a negative impact on higher education.

The survey also cast doubt on proposed Tef metrics for assessing teaching quality. Almost two-thirds (63%) of respondents said student satisfaction would be an ineffective or very ineffective measure of teaching quality. While 55% said that graduate employment would also be an ineffective or very ineffective measure and 59% said they did not believe student dropout rates would be an effective measure of the quality of teaching in UK universities.

Responding to the findings, UCU called on the government to require new providers to demonstrate a track record of higher education delivery before gaining degree-awarding powers.

The union said the strength of feeling among academics about the impact of the bill, which will be debated again in the House of Lords later today, must not be ignored. UCU said the survey showed the new Tef does not have the confidence of academic staff and must be reconsidered.

The survey also highlighted the worrying impact of Brexit on universities, with 42% of academics - and three-quarters (76%) of non-UK EU academics - saying they were more likely to consider leaving UK higher education. A third (29%) of respondents said they already know of academics leaving the UK, and over two-fifths (44%) said they know of academics who have lost access to research funding as a direct result of the Brexit vote. An overwhelming majority (90%) said they think Brexit will have a negative impact on the UK higher education sector.

The union said the findings reinforced the case for shelving the HE bill and allowing universities to focus on dealing with a potential brain drain and other issues caused by Brexit. It repeated its call for the government to guarantee the right to remain of EU staff already working in the UK.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'This survey gives a real insight into academics' concerns about the government's policy proposals and the fallout of the Brexit vote.

'The level of concern amongst staff about the bill's plans must be cause for alarm.  We have to have robust requirements for new higher education providers in order to safeguard the UK's global academic reputation. There are serious misgivings over the Tef and academics simply do not believe the government's plans to measure teaching quality can be effective.

'I am deeply worried that so many academics already know of staff leaving as a result of the Brexit vote, and that three-quarters of EU nationals are now considering leaving the UK.

'The government must focus its full attention on dealing with the impacts of Brexit and shelve the divisive HE Bill. Its first act should be to try and retain the talented academics working in this country by guaranteeing EU staff already working in the UK the right to remain.'

Last updated: 31 January 2017