The Implications of Brexit for the UK Academic Market

In Feature Articles by Roger Tagholm

Threats and opportunities were considered by leading figures from academic publishing at Thursday’s panel discussion on Brexit.

By Roger Tagholm
According to panelists on the Publishing Perspectives Stage Thursday, possible outcomes of the UK’s vote to leave the EU include a collapse in funding for research; a drain of talented people from the European Union; and isolation from European discussions on copyright.

Andy Robinson, senior vice president and managing director of Wiley’s Society Services, said that 10 percent of the academic workforce in the UK is from the EU, against the national average of 5.6 percent. UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s tough stance on immigration has led to a question mark over the status of these workers.brexit_panel-1240768

“We have 31,000 researchers from the EU and 125,000 students who are worth £3.7bn to the economy,” Robinson said. “These people are providing high quality research and I think the publishing sector is going to have to manage the possible impact on this workforce.”

He noted that UK researchers now faced “being at the back of the queue”—there was evidence of UK academics being taken off grant applications as a result of the vote–and he emphasized that publishers “need to make a strong economic case for research funds.”

On copyright, Richard Fisher, former managing director of academic publishing at Cambridge University Press and now academic and policy correspondent for the Independent Publishers Guild, warned that leaving the EU “might result in a fragmentation of copyright protection”.

EU law will cease to apply in the UK once Article 50 is triggered (the process by which the UK will leave the EU), which may result in what moderator Richard Mollet, Head of European Government Affairs at the RELX Group, called a “diverging” in copyright regimes.

He admitted that if he were Google, “I’d be dusting off my new proposals for the Hargreaves Report” on intellectual property: Google might want to seize the opportunity to grab more content.

Fisher said that if the UK “is outside the tent, then there’s a danger of being isolated in any discussions of any new regulatory framework in Europe.” Fisher also warned of a loss of influence on issues like open access.

Yet Robinson did—slightly begrudgingly—admit that there was just about a glass-half-full view of Brexit too: “There is a short term currency gain,” he said, “so royalty checks have gone up. It means we might eliminate VAT on journals, although that might go the other way, too. It gives us a chance to really get behind the Department of International Trade and focus on emerging markets; and it’s a chance for UK research to really market itself.”

A final, optimistic note was sounded by Fisher, though.

“British academic publishing has always been international, and has to be international,” he said. “Those relationships won’t go away as a result of Brexit. There’s all to play for.”

About the Author

Roger Tagholm


Roger Tagholm is based in London and has been writing about the book industry for more than 20 years. He is the former Deputy Editor of Publishing News and the author of Walking Literary London (New Holland) and Poems NOT on the Underground (Windrush Press).