The authoritative source for independent research on UK-EU relations

21 Jun 2017

Relationship with the EU

One year since the UK voted to leave the European Union, a new Government is taking office and the Brexit negotiations are just getting underway. The implications of Brexit for science and innovation remain a key focus for our research community here in the UK, but also in Europe and around the world. As the national academy of science for the UK, the Royal Society is working to ensure the best possible outcome of Brexit for research and innovation.

This blog follows a talk I gave recently in Madrid, at an event organised by the British Council, as part of its EU-UK Culture series. There, I spoke about the Society’s work since the referendum, and was pleased to get a clear sense from the audience that our European partners are as keen as ever to work with researchers in the UK. This echoed the conversations that I, and Officers and Fellows of the Royal Society, have had across Europe over the past year. Our shared interested in ensuring the best possible outcome of Brexit is clear.

Brexit has implications for the future of UK research and innovation in three areas: mobility and collaboration, funding and infrastructures, and regulation and policy. As part of our work on Brexit, the Society has recently published new research and analysis on international researcher mobility and on the role of EU funding in UK research and innovation.

International researcher mobility

The UK is a hub for international collaboration and our science base is truly international. 29% of academics in the UK come from overseas, with 17% from other EU countries. Over half of the UK’s research output is the result of international collaboration, with 60% of this involving a partner in another EU country. In a recent survey, 89% of national academy Fellows and grant holders told us international collaboration is important to their career.

Our commissioned work from RAND clearly showed that the UK is a very attractive destination for researchers. International mobility brings broad benefits for individuals, institutions and the UK, but also for researchers’ home countries; 40% maintain active collaborations with partners back home. Researchers move to take up new posts, but equally important are short visits, for example to meet with collaborators.

For those EEA researchers who have already made the UK their home, we are seeking urgent assurances that they will continue to be able to work in the UK if their rights as EEA citizens change. For the future, we are calling on government to ensure that researchers continue to be able to move with ease to and from the UK. UK research is supported by wide and deep networks across Europe, and maintaining these close links is important for the future of UK science and science across Europe and beyond.

Funding and infrastructures

The Society, with the other three UK national academies—the Academy of Medical Sciences, British Academy and Royal Academy of Engineering—has also published new evidence from Technopolis Group on the role of EU funding in UK research and innovation. The report shows how deeply embedded EU funding is in the UK, and how its role varies across disciplines, institutions, company sizes and sectors, as well as regions of the UK.

By discipline, clinical medicine received the most research funding from the EU in absolute terms in 2014/15 (£115 million), but proportionally archaeology is most dependent on it, having received 38% of its research funding from the EU. In industry, EU funding accounts for 16.9% of research investment in SMEs, and for large companies it brings non-financial benefits, enabling participation in large collaborations. Regionally, different EU funding streams play different roles. England takes the lion’s share (85%) of funding from Framework Programmes, but Wales is particularly reliant on European Structural Investment Funds; the region will receive 125 euros per capita from 2014-2020.

The Society is seeking the closest possible association with EU research programmes in future. However, whether or not this is possible, a clear understanding of the role of EU funding in UK research and innovation will be crucial to ensuring a smooth transition as the UK leaves the EU.

Regulation and policy

Finally, while they may not be first on the agenda for the Brexit negotiations, the EU regulations and policies that govern research in the UK will require careful review. The UK will need to strike the right balance between areas for which continued harmonisation with EU policies will be important beyond Brexit, and those in which a new approach to regulation might be appropriate.

Brexit and global science

Over the coming months, we, like many in the research community will be focussed on advising the Brexit negotiations, working closely with the research community, UK Government and Parliament and our partners across Europe and the rest of the world.

Ultimately, our governments will determine the UK’s future relationship with the EU, but whatever the outcome, scientists in the EU will remain crucial partners for scientists in the UK and researchers will continue to find ways to work across borders. We will work to ensure that they have the opportunities to do so, through Brexit and beyond.

By Eleanor Beal Senior Policy Adviser at Royal Society and Dr Julie Maxton, Executive Director of the Royal Society.

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