We are all aware of the challenges for research funding that have been thrown up by the EU referendum result and the uncertainty it has raised around EU nationals working here in the University and the rest of UK HE sector. Whilst not wanting to play down the forthcoming challenges there was a thought-provoking and challenging article in The Guardian just before Christmas by Graeme Reid
Prof. Reid highlighted the House of Lords Science & Technology Select Committee report “A Time for Boldness: EU membership and UK science after the referendum” that makes several recommendations not only to Government but to scientists themselves. Nor did the report pull its punches when criticising the Government, particularly on the impact of ministerial statements on immigration on the HE sector, or calling for the Government to invest further in Science and the importance that the voice of Science is heard in the brexit negotiations. It identified the need to continue to attract talented postgraduate students to the UK, ensure the very best early career researchers are nurtured, whether those researchers are from the UK or elsewhere, in order that we continue to maintain our global leadership. It emphasised the need to expand the opportunities for international research collaborations, whilst maintaining the domestic research agenda, and attracting the very best talent to the UK through new initiatives. One of the most exciting gambits suggested was for the UK to host a major new research facility.
Given the tenor of the report, there is every reason why the scientific community should react positively. It would serve us well to remain on the side lines carping and moaning about the outcome in June. Science is such an international endeavour that we all have a role to ensure the vision articulated by the Select Committee comes to fruition. Already in Europe, the UK benefits from large scale investment outside of the EU, such as CERN, ILL (in Grenoble), the European Space Agency and the future European Spallation Source (in Sweden.) We need to continue to build and strengthen our collaborations with European partners. Leading European universities, such as KU Leuven, are already indicating they are keen to establish new “associations” after brexit.
Whilst the future is far from clear nor is it the doom and despair that is being reported. By their very nature scientists are an inventive lot and what those prospects will be are what we make of them, with the sort of support and initiatives promoted by the Select Committee.