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The ingenuity of the UK research community will likely be tested when it comes to maximising opportunities arising from the referendum decision to leave the EU. Four key requirements for UK universities have been identified in a recent blog by Dr Anne Corbett, Associate, LSE Enterprise:

  • support to maintain and enhance the UK’s international research collaboration
  • support to ensure UK is an attractive destination for talent
  • support for UK students and staff to access vital global opportunities
  • increased public investment in the UK research base

The first three of these needs relate significantly to freedom of movement, and research in “science” – including the arts, humanities, social sciences, engineering as well as traditional natural sciences (all supported by the research councils and part of the “science budget”) – has long been an international endeavour.

This UK is one of the largest beneficiaries of EU research funding. The European Research Area (ERA) was launched by the European Commission in 2000 with the aim of coordinating research and innovation activities across the EU. ERA initiatives are developed through periodic framework programmes; the current programme, Horizon 2020, aims to allocate €80 billion for research and innovation from 2014 to 2020. Funding is allocated on a competitive basis through the European Research Council.

Concerns over public investment in science will have been allayed, at least to some extent, by recent government announcements following the EU referendum. In August 2016, the Chancellor gave an undertaking to underwrite the payment of EU research grants extending beyond the point at which the UK leaves the EU. Subsequently, the Autumn Statement 2016 announced a real terms increase in government investment worth £2 billion per year by 2020 for research and development. This additional funding had been referred to the previous Monday (21 November 2016) by the Prime Minister in a speech to the CBI Conference. In addition to the increased R&D funding, the Prime Minister announced:

  • A ‘new Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund to back priority technologies’;
  • A review of current R&D tax incentives.

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee published its report, Leaving the EU: Implications and opportunities for science and research, on 18 November 2016 (HC 502).  The Committee repeated an earlier call on the Government to increase spending on research and development, while extending a measured welcome to the Government’s “helpful reassurance” by promising to underwrite the payment of EU grants extending beyond the point at which the UK leaves the European Union. 

Reflecting a prevalent mood among the scientific community, the Committee emphasised a need to guarantee the position of EU researchers working in the UK. The Committee considered that measures were needed “to attract skilled researchers and students” and that these should include “an immediate commitment” to exempt EU researchers already working in the UK from any wider potential immigration controls.

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