For the university sector this is primarily a question of access to specific sorts of skills, and competitiveness. Overall, almost a quarter of academic staff in the university sector come from outside the UK, and in some disciplines and roles the reliance is much greater. EEA nationals make up 11% of all staff in universities, and they comprise 17% of academic staff. For staff on research-only contracts, that figure is 27%. In particular subject areas the concentration of EEA nationals can be even higher, particularly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as well as areas such as economics, where more than 30% of academic staff come from outside the UK.
Universities require specific skills, sometimes at relatively short notice, and the pool of talent is geographically distributed in some funny way. For example, the University of Cambridge has a world-leading strength in Arctic and Antarctic research, and it requires a pool of technicians who are able to analyse certain sorts of geological data. Quite often, those teams of individuals are deployed at relatively short notice when the climate conditions are right and boats are available, and it all comes together at the last minute. A group of individuals in Italy possess those skills, and historically Cambridge has called on them, and recruited from Italy to staff up those teams when they need those skills. That does not mean that over time we could not generate our own labour force with those specific skills, but in the short term if we moved from one regime to another, would institutions simply be unable to access the specific skillsets they need for one reason or another? Would they be less able to compete effectively and perform their research because they are constrained in that regard?
Overall, our particular concern relates to staff in technician roles, 63% of whom earn below the £30,000 threshold. That is why we propose that the Government should consider a lower threshold. We would like to suggest £21,000 as the level at which the majority of staff—particularly in those technician roles—will be able to continue to come to the UK. That would be a compromise. We also suggest that for staff whose jobs fall under the shortage occupation list there should be no salary threshold. As others have argued, a salary threshold is not a good proxy for skill level.