Fears Materialise for UK Science in Post-Brexit Landscape

Fears Materialise for UK Science in Post-Brexit Landscape July 12, 2016

I recently wrote about my worries with regard to EU funding and science in the UK. I feel that the discipline and economy of science (which I propose is massively important to me personally, and to this country and our collective futures) is at threat.

This appears to have been confirmed, as early reports come in (as The Guardian states):

Britain’s vote to leave the EU has unleashed a wave of discrimination against UK researchers, with elite universities in the country coming under pressure to abandon collaborations with European partners.

In a confidential survey of the UK’s Russell Group universities, the Guardian found cases of British academics being asked to leave EU-funded projects or to step down from leadership roles because they are considered a financial liability.

In one case, an EU project officer recommended that a lead investigator drop all UK partners from a consortium because Britain’s share of funding could not be guaranteed. The note implied that if UK organisations remained on the project, which is due to start in January 2017, the contract signing would be delayed until Britain had agreed a fresh deal with Europe.

The backlash against UK researchers began immediately after the June referendum when the failure to plan for a post-Brexit Britain cast serious doubts over the chances of British organisations winning future EU funding. British researchers receive about £1bn a year from EU finding programmes such as Horizon 2020, but access to the money must be completely renegotiated under Brexit.

The 24 universities in the Russell Group are regarded as Britain’s elite institutions. With Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, University College London and Imperial College among their number, they are renowned for world-class research and academic excellence.

One leading university said anecdotal evidence that UK applicants were being dropped from EU bids came almost straight after the vote. Since then they had witnessed “a substantial increase in definitive evidence that EU projects are reluctant to be in collaboration with UK partners, and that potentially all new funding opportunities from Horizon 2020 are closing”.

Incidents reported by the universities suggest that researchers across the natural sciences, the engineering disciplines and social sciences are all affected. At least two social science collaborations with Dutch universities have been told UK partners are unwelcome, one Russell Group university said in the survey.

Speaking at Oxford’s Wolfson College last Friday, the university’s chancellor, Chris Patten, said Oxford received perhaps more research income than any European university, with about 40% coming from government. “Our research income will of course fall significantly after we have left the EU unless a Brexit government guarantees to cover the shortfall,” Lord Patten said.

And it continues:

Others see it differently. Joe Gorman, a senior scientist at Sintef, Norway’s leading research institute, said he believed UK industry and universities would see “a fairly drastic and immediate reduction in the number of invitations to join consortiums”.

Only 12% of bids for Horizon 2020 funds are successful, a rate that falls by more than half in highly competitive areas. Given the low probability of winning funds at the best of times, Gorman said it was natural risk aversion to be cautious of UK partners. In many cases, British organisations will not have a clue they have lost out. “If you don’t get invited to the party, you don’t even know there is a party,” he said.

“I strongly suspect that UK politicians simply don’t understand this, and think it is ‘business as usual’, at least until negotiations have been completed. They are wrong, the problems start right now,” he added. As a former European commission official, Gorman oversaw research projects and now advises universities and companies on how to succeed in EU-funded research programmes.

This appears to be exactly what I was worried about. I cannot see the UK maintain its place at the forefront of global science outside of the EU, unless the EU falls apart.

That budget from the EU also looks to have been spent five times over, without science getting a mention.

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