Higher Education representative needed at Brexit negotiating table, say Academy and Campaign

23 September 2016

Brexit negotiations must include a representative of the UK higher education and science community, The Academy of Social Sciences and its Campaign for Social Science have said.

In a briefing note addressing the consequences of the “prolonged period of uncertainty” in the three months since the EU referendum vote on June 23, the Academy and Campaign make recommendations about immediate steps the government should take to support UK science and ensure the “long-term health of research is kept to the fore” during the negotiation process.

“It is imperative that there is a member of the UK negotiating team committed to, and knowledgeable about, research,” the note says, given the vital role of UK science and universities as “drivers of economic growth and innovation.” The inclusion of a proposed Deputy Director for Research Innovation and Higher Education within the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) would serve to support this role, “as it is unclear where the issue lies in the current organisation” of the department.

The note says an “explicit statement” from the government on the importance of research funding, collaboration, staff and students for UK science and universities, as well as for economic growth and well-being would show commitment to the continued health and global position of UK science.

While the Academy and Campaign welcome government pledges to guarantee underwriting research awards made under the EU’s Horizon 2020 framework programme, uncertainty over the UK’s status and eligibility for future funding remains. The UK has been a net beneficiary of EU funding, receiving an estimated €3.4 billion more than it paid into the EU in terms of funding for research, development and innovation activities between 2007 and 2013. Research funding safeguards should be a high priority, the note says, in order to protect and replace EU funds for research after Horizon 2020.

Dr Ashley Lenihan, Senior Policy Advisor at the Academy and Campaign, recognised the importance of addressing funding uncertainty, but noted that there are also broader issues at play.

“These recommendations are about more than research funding, but go to the heart of issues such as EU staff and student visas, and EU student loan eligibility, which are already affecting the Higher Education and Research communities”, she said.

Questions over collaborations and infrastructure are more difficult to resolve, as they are “likely to be linked to negotiations over ease of movement.” The note recommends a joint effort between the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in collating evidence of cases from universities where collaborations have been put at risk in the shadow of Brexit, and actively raise them with the EU Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science. The Minister for Universities and Science should also ensure the compilation of real-time statistics about applications for EU funding from UK applications, so that any post-Brexit decline can be acted upon.

The note points to the need for universities, research institutes and many businesses to draw on international recruitment to fill gaps in vital scientific and social scientific skills. The government should, therefore, recognise the importance of EU and other international staff in UK universities and the research sector, and develop appropriate visa policies for UK universities and research should that be necessary.

The Department for Education, BEIS, and the Home Office will also need to work together to ensure that universities continue to remain globally open and competitive. Any concerns about post-graduate employment of international students could be addressed separately to the student visa regime, without jeopardising the place and contribution of non-UK students to UK universities and science.

Dr Lenihan added:

“For the UK to remain a world innovation leader, we must recognise that the long term health of our universities, science and research relies on our ability to collaborate with European and international colleagues, and to attract the best and brightest researchers, teachers and students to this country. The participation of a higher education representative at the negotiating table would make sure that the strength of UK science remains a high priority during the Brexit process.”


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Read the full briefing
Read ‘EU Referendum – Leave: What next for UK social science?’