Academy and Campaign call for flexible immigration system to address UK grand challenges
February 21, 2018
The Academy of Social Sciences and its Campaign for Social Science have called for a ‘flexible immigration system’ so as to continue to attract and retain international talent to UK universities and research institutions that will be vital in addressing the UK’s grand challenges.
Responding to an inquiry ahead of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee Brexit Science and Innovation Summit being held today [February 22], the Academy and Campaign stress previous calls for ‘appropriate visa policies’ for universities and the wider research community. They argue that ‘straightforward and flexible recruitment and retention’ of international researchers would ensure the UK has the necessary skills to deliver on the government’s grand challenge priorities laid out in its Industrial Strategy White Paper, as well as by UK Research and Innovation. This would also enable universities and research institutions to ‘maintain their global standing as hubs of international talent’.
This comes as the UK has reached its monthly quota on Tier 2 visas for skilled non-EU workers for the third consecutive month, and in the midst of the higher education funding review, announced earlier this week by the Prime Minister.
The response welcomes ‘constructive steps’ in a number of areas, including the goal of spending 2.4% of GDP on research and development by 2027, and the long-term aspiration to match the 3% EU target; confirmation of the eligibility of EU undergraduate and postgraduate students for loans, grants and home fee status for 2018/19; and pledges to underwrite certain research awards made to UK researchers under the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme.
However, failure to comprehensively address questions over freedom of movement, as well as access to EU research funding and networks, such as Horizon 2020 and the next Framework Programme (FP9), would affect all of the UK’s sciences and research base. The response highlights the disproportionate effect this would have specifically on UK social sciences, in light of the importance of EU staff, students and research funding to these disciplines.
International students contribute an estimated £11bn to the UK economy, while 28% of all social science staff come from outside the UK, including 16% from the EU. EU funding for the social sciences has offset a decline in domestic research council and departmental funding, and UK social science ranked first among EU member states for total ERC starting grants between 2007 and 2015.
As a result, the Academy and Campaign have reiterated calls for the ‘closest possible association with and participation in’ EU funding programmes, and highlight risks to important international leadership roles, and access to international cooperation and skills that would otherwise result in ‘significant long-term gaps in skills the UK economy will need after Brexit.’
A distinction between official migration statistics and targets would furthermore safeguard the financial and intellectual contributions made by international students to universities and local economies. This would also enable universities and research institutions to retain their status as world-leaders in research excellence, while fostering the skills necessary to respond to the government’s grand challenge priorities.
Other measures, such as the announcement of an additional 1,000 Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visas, including for the social sciences and humanities, are a promising ‘start’, as there will continue to be a need to recruit internationally for academics at a variety of levels if the strength of UK social science and of universities as a whole is to be protected.
Commenting, Professor Shamit Saggar CBE FAcSS, Chair of the Campaign for Social Science, said:
‘We know that the social sciences play a crucial role in understanding and addressing many of the most pressing social and economic challenges identified as priorities in the government’s Industrial Strategy. This includes issues ranging from navigating ethical and regulatory concerns related to AI, and developing appropriate policies to tackle the UK’s productivity puzzle and regional disparities in growth and education.
‘The social sciences draw on European networks and EU and international talent to develop the appropriate skills to respond to these and many other challenges. That’s why it is imperative the government adopt the necessary measures that enable the UK to continue to access vital EU funding and networks, attract top quality international talent, and develop skills and expertise at the forefront of research and innovation.’