Bold steps are needed to ensure UK science has a prominent place in the global economy after Brexit, says a Lords report.
The UK needs to retain current scientific talent and attract even more of the world’s leading scientists according to the Science and Technology Committee’s report A time for boldness: EU membership and UK science after the referendum.
The UK should expand and enhance existing programmes. But it must also search out the world’s most accomplished scientists and persuade them to pursue careers here. The government should send repeated signals to the global science community that the UK remains a welcoming place for talented scientists.
The report welcomes the major increase to science funding announced in the 2016 Autumn Statement. The committee recommends that, in addition, the science and research budget should be rebased at an early opportunity to compensate fully for any reduction of funding from the EU. UK scientific leaders should not to be consumed entirely with UK-EU negotiations and should explore scientific collaborations and shared protocols with the rest of the world – particularly where there is potential to build on existing relationships such as ones with the USA.
The UK should offer to host — in partnership with governments and funding bodies from other countries —- one or more new, large-scale international research facilities. This would be a bold move to signal the UK’s global standing in science.
Uncertainty regarding the future relationship between EU and UK science is having a corrosive effect on the UK research base. But the government has the power to mitigate many negative effects of Brexit and use it as a catalyst to address long standing underperformance in economic productivity.
Lord Selborne, Chairman of the Committee, said: “Positive assurances have been sent from the government to UK science. We welcome the major increase in science funding announced in the 2016 Autumn Statement and the government’s separate assurance that it will underwrite funding for approved Horizon 2020 projects applied for before Brexit. The UK’s outstanding reputation and performance in the scientific world depends critically on redoubling efforts to persuade many of the world’s most talented scientists to pursue careers in this country. Our proposal to find global scientific leaders will help to tackle this and nurture the next generation of research leaders in the UK. It is vital the UK is still seen as open to scientific talent; the government has the ability to send this message to the scientific community enabling us to become world leaders after Brexit and beyond.”
Freedom of Movement: The report maintains that the government should distinguish in the immigration statistics and the net migration target between students — holding Tier 4 visas — and other immigrants; and the government should treat student numbers separately for immigration policy making purposes. The EU referendum result and mixed messages from the government could undermine the shared ambitions of the government and the research community to welcome talented scientists to the UK.
Attracting Talent: We recognise that at this early stage, there is little documented evidence of scientists from other EU Member States deciding not to come to the UK because of the EU referendum, or of UK scientists deciding not to work in other EU Member States for that reason. But there is a clear perception in the scientific community that discrimination is occurring. We recommend that the government, through its global science and innovation network, or the British Council, should perform annual surveys around the world assessing the UK’s reputation in the global scientific community as a welcoming place to pursue a scientific career. The results of these surveys should be published.
Scientific Advice: The gHouse of Lordsovernment must ensure that it has appropriate scientific advice during the Brexit negotiations. The voice of the scientific community should be heard alongside the voice of business during the Brexit negotiations and in making future alliances.