Brexit could push British universities down global rankings

By Blog Admin, on 28 May 2016

by Sultan Orazbayev – Current PhD Candidate

Research shows that visa restrictions between countries reduce scientific collaboration of researchers in those countries. If Brexit results in an increase in the administrative barriers to mobility, then this could harm the global standing of British-based researchers and British universities.


Donaldson Reading room, UCL. source: Wikicommons

Researchers believe that Brexit will affect the ranking of UK universities.

Recent comparative study of European and US researcher mobility documents that researchers in Europe (including non-EU countries) move less frequently within Europe compared to inter-state mobility of US researchers (Kamalski and Plume, 2013). The same study shows that countries with higher rates of mobility are associated with high-impact research. Additional supporting evidence on the importance of researcher mobility can be found in the recent Parliamentary report on EU membership and UK science.

There is no clear understanding of how Brexit will affect the administrative barriers to mobility, both for UK researchers’ access to EU countries and access to UK by EU researchers. A close case study is provided by Switzerland, see a detailed examination in a blog post by Galsworthy and Davidson (2015). In the extreme case of imposition of ‘paper walls’, for example travel visa requirements between UK and EU, there is likely to be a significant drop in UK-EU scientific collaborations and knowledge flows. This would exacerbate the impact of the reduction in overall funding of UK science which is likely to follow Brexit.
Research shows that higher ‘paper walls’ between countries (immigration policy, travel visa requirements) reduce bilateral knowledge flows and collaborations (Orazbayev, 2016). EU researchers are collaborators for about 40% of the UK collaborative research, thus even a small increase in collaboration costs is likely to lead to a sizeable drop in joint projects.

As a consequence of the negative impact of Brexit on UK (and EU) science, British universities would slide down in the global university rankings. International university league tables place a significant weight on research performance of a university, which is proxied by the citations to work generated at the university. For example, QS World University Rankings places 20% weight on citations per faculty as a measure of research impact. The decrease in citations to UK research (reflecting reduced knowledge flows), especially to the recent research, will push British universities down the league tables.


Please note: Views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect those of UCL, SSEES or SSEES Research Blog