Brexit could scare away European researchers and lecturers, who are no longer interested in UK higher education posts.

As reported by the Guardian, a leading German academic’s body has issued a warning that if the British government does not maintain free movement for EU academics, it could lose up to 15% of staff at British universities.

Margret Wintermantel, the head of the academic exchange service DAAD, which represents more than 300 higher education institutions and student bodies across Germany, said uncertainty about future working and residence conditions was “proving painful” and prompting top academics to turn down British university jobs.

“The mobility of researchers should not be restricted, either for British academics in EU countries or EU citizens at British institutions,” Wintermantel wrote in the Guardian. “It is now up to the British government to create the necessary framework to ensure this can happen.”

More than 5,200 Germans are among the 32,000 non-British EU academics that make up 17% of UK university teaching and research posts. At higher-ranking institutions, the figure tops 20%. They include some of the leading researchers in the country: more than half the European research council’s prestigious mid-career grants in the UK are held by EU researchers.

Seven national academies, including the British Academy and the Royal Society, recently wrote to the government demanding that it reassure EU researchers that “they and their dependents will be able to continue to live and work here”.

In related news, the BBC reported that some UK universities could open campuses in Europe as a way around the problem.

For instance, the University of Kent has had a centre in Brussels for almost 20 years, for more than 200 postgraduate students from 60 countries, and also runs branches in Paris, Athens and Rome.

These sites are recognised by relevant legal and educational authorities in each country and allow the university “to develop and foster connections that enable our students to gain important access to professional networks”, said a University of Kent spokesman.

“You can imagine a situation post-Brexit where UK universities are operating as aggressively in Europe as they are in China and India and elsewhere,” Chris Husbands, vice-chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University, told the Guardian newspaper.

Universities also worry that they would find it harder to recruit students if the rules on fees for EU students were changed under the UK’s new relationship with the EU.

EU students currently pay the same fees and have the same access to loans as UK students – and Universities UK president Dame Julia Goodfellow has already called for reassurance for those who have already started degrees at UK universities that these arrangements will last for the duration of their courses.