The United Kingdom’s looming exit from the European Union has spurred concerns about the future of research and innovation in Europe. Members of the scientific community in the UK and continental Europe have said losing the UK’s participation in EU research after Brexit would have negative impacts for both parties.
The UK is currently involved in helping the European Commission plan the next EU research initiative, the Ninth Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (FP9). FP9 covers seven years and is expected to have a budget of between €80 billion and €100 billion.
Although the UK could participate in FP9 as an “associated country,” like Norway and Switzerland, it has not pledged to do so and may cease its participation in 2020, when the current framework programme ends. FP9 is set to begin on 1 January, 2021 – only a day after Brexit negotiations are expected to conclude. Unless a deal is negotiated earlier, FP9 will begin without the UK.
While a research cooperation deal would be beneficial for both the UK and the EU, it remains to be determined if a deal will be negotiated and when that might occur. Financial Times reports that the UK’s Commons Science and Technology Committee has called for a science and research deal to be concluded by October of this year, saying it “could set a positive tone for other elements of the negotiations”.
UK science minister Sam Gyimah said the government intends “to sign an ambitious science and innovation agreement with the EU,” but that they will not “participate at any price. It has to be a realistic deal for the UK.”
European academics have expressed concerns that losing the UK’s participation in EU research programs after Brexit would negatively impact scientific research and projects. Rolf Tarrach, president of the European University Association (EUA), told Swiss newspaper Neue Zurcher Zeitung that Switzerland, which is also considering leaving the EUA, and the UK “are the best we have in Europe in terms of research and universities. If we lose them, our quality goes down.”
“That would be the worst thing that could happen to Europe. It would be a disaster for the universities,” Tarrach added.
Scientists and academics in the UK have also raised concerns about how their work may be impacted by Brexit. A new survey jointly carried out by New Scientist and UK-based science recruitment agency SRG collected data from more than 4000 individuals – most of them based in the UK or continental Europe – who work as academics, scientists or engineers.
Nearly half of participants based in the UK said they thought Brexit would have a “significant impact” on their business, while 41% said they thought it would have “a small impact.” Only 13% of UK-based respondents said they thought Brexit would have “no impact.” Much of the anxiety centres on future funding for science and difficulty recruiting top European talent, according to New Scientist.
“It is important that Britain and the EU ensure that their research communities can continue to access the high-level skills that support innovation in science and technology,” a UK government spokesperson told New Scientist. “We are carefully considering the options for a future immigration system but are clear that the UK will remain an open country that attracts the brightest and the best researchers.”