A few weeks have passed since my last blog, during which time much has happened, most significantly the EU Referendum. You may have seen that RCUK has recently released a statement on international collaboration and I wanted to use this opportunity to touch on some impacts of the referendum result.
The outcome of the referendum has brought a great deal of uncertainty to the UK in general and the research community in particular – there are many questions around what the UK’s position will be regarding Horizon 2020, future framework programmes, joint programming initiatives, the ERC; will existing grants be honoured by the EU – or potentially underwritten by the UK government; what will the status of EU nationals working in research teams at institutions across the UK (and UK nationals in the EU) be in the future – and many more.
As we all appreciate, research is a global endeavour and doesn’t recognise borders. To remain at the leading edge it is imperative that UK researchers continue to collaborate with communities across the world – including Europe. Publications from UK researchers that have international collaborators are more highly cited than those without (PDF). This trend is set to continue as we tackle global challenges, such as food security and climate change, which require interdisciplinary approaches and international collaboration.
The Science Minister, Jo Johnson, picked up on many of these themes in his speech ‘Leading the world in the new age of global science’. If you haven’t yet read it, I recommend that you do. He recognised the strength of the UK in research and innovation and that the outcome of the referendum was not what many in the sector had campaigned for. Importantly he gave his commitment “to continue working with you to make the strongest possible case for higher education, research and innovation in the coming negotiation”. He emphasised that we remain part of the EU, are still open to scientists and researchers from the EU and it is very much ‘business as usual’.
I would hope that this is peoples’ experience yet, disturbingly, I have already heard of examples where UK researchers are being asked by European counterparts to step aside from their involvement in both currently funded programmes and also projects under development. If this has happened to you or a colleague – we want to know about it (firstname.lastname@example.org) – Commissioner Modas has given assurances to the UK that this type of discrimination should not be occurring.
I was interested to read this piece in Science by Graham Reid, former Head of the Research Funding in The Department for Business Innovation and Skills, in which he proposes that science could be one of the “starting points for the critical process of building a new relationship between the EU and the UK”. The Research Councils provide a vital link between research communities and government and now, more than ever, we need to work together with common cause to ensure the UK research base continues to thrive during Brexit negotiations and beyond. With the help of UKRO we have already compiled a list of priority areas that Government needs to consider now and during negotiations – I am sure this will continue to evolve with your help. A unified voice for UK research that proactively and positively engages in shaping the future is vital if we are to maintain our world-leading research ecosystem.
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