Top international talent is considering quitting Dundee because the UK has declared itself “hostile” to outsiders, the city’s university principal has revealed.
Professor Sir Pete Downes also warned that replacing a mass exodus would be exceptionally difficult because of Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s desire to further limit immigration.
A near 1,500 staff and students at Dundee University are from other EU member states and, with many more also based at neighbouring Abertay University, Sir Pete predicted the choice will be on a knife-edge for individuals.
He said: “It’s a combination of those who are here and their willingness to put their faith in a system which has declared itself as hostile notwithstanding the fact every single one of them, as far as I can tell, feels positively about the university and the city of Dundee.
“They are torn between two emotions. There is a recognition this is not something our city or university wanted but they are feeling less wanted, less secure in the UK.
“That means more people will leave and, more importantly, it means they won’t be as easily replaced by fresh talent from abroad.
“To diminish the international flavour of our campus is not just a problem for overseas students, it is a problem for Scottish students who benefit from exposure to different cultures.”
The academic exchange service DAAD, which represents more than 300 higher education institutions and student bodies across Germany has previously warned up to 15% of staff could be lost from British universities without free movement of people.
Sir Pete argued that maintaining that policy would be one of the most significant agreements the UK Government could secure from its negotiations to leave the EU following June’s referendum.
He argued that overseas staff and students played a key role in make the institute “the most potent force for economic and cultural development in our region,” adding that uncertainty and being “held in limbo” is creating problems already.
He said: “I have 450 staff and 1,000 students from the EU. The president of our student association is European. From day one after the referendum these people felt less welcome in the UK than they did before Brexit.
“I have been infuriated with comments by some Brexit politicians, by the suggestion that universities should accept Brexit is happening and get on the bandwagon.
“Nobody can go and tell me to so stand in front of my 450 staff and say: ‘Why aren’t you thinking positively about Brexit?’
“No one will get me to stand in from of 1,000 students and say: ‘Brexit is good for you.’ This is the emotional impact.”
The Courier last week revealed major concerns from Professor Sally Maptsone, the principal of St Andrews University, that plans to restrict the number of foreign students would be “deeply impoverishing” to the country.
Sir Pete backed that view, branding the policy “nonsensical” and “incredibly divisive”.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “We are considering what more we can do to strengthen the system to support the best universities — and those that stick to the rules — to attract the best talent.
“This is not about pulling up the drawbridge to international students but making sure those students that come here, come to study.”