Brexit and UK (Social) Science: Developments to date
February 20, 2017
The Academy of Social Sciences and its Campaign for Social Science have today (February 20) published a new briefing note on Brexit.
This note outlines Government statements related to recommendations the Academy and Campaign have made since the EU referendum. It provides a summary of the Government’s response to some of the concerns of the science and research community, and makes further recommendations for Government actions that could provide additional clarity.
The note welcomes steps already taken to ‘address some of the uncertainty for UK science and research’ following the referendum, but points to persistent concerns around the potential loss of income from international students, recruitment and skills gaps from loss of international staff, higher barriers to international research collaborations, and lower levels of research funding in the longer-term.
Given the Government’s intention to ‘pursue a new and equal partnership’ with the EU, the Academy and Campaign reiterate a previous position calling for appropriate visa policies for international academic and research staff. This reflects the importance of UK universities as drivers of economic prosperity and highlights the vital contribution of international talent in the sector’s success, as well as skills gap that would be difficult to overcome without significant investment, funding, and recruitment.
In the UK, 15% of academic staff are EU nationals, with a total of 27% coming from outside the UK. However, a recent poll found that 76% of non-UK EU academics were more likely to consider leaving the UK higher education sector.
The note says this ‘new partnership’ would also rule out a European-Economic Area-type deal, necessitating a bespoke agreement for UK participation as an associated country in any future EU Framework programmes. The Government would, however ‘[welcome] agreement to continue to collaborate with European partners on major science, research and technology initiatives’, the note says.
It also expresses concern over the more than 7% drop in EU student applications for the first time in more than a decade. It highlights the nearly £11bn contribution of foreign students to the UK economy, and the potential risks a reduction in international students or more restrictive student visa regimes would pose to the well-being of UK universities, and the growth prospects of the economy at local, regional, and national levels. Government policy should bear in mind not only the financial contribution of foreign students, but also their role as sources of skills and knowledge to both UK universities and the wider economy, the note says.
Previous recommendations have also called on the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to compile evidence of cases where applications to EU programmes have been threatened due to uncertainty or misunderstandings. The note warns, however, that the current environment may lead to under-reporting of such cases. It says that while the Government intends to continue to collate evidence, there are no plans to provide ‘running updates’.