Brexit already damaging science, warn academic groups

Written by Tom Freeman on 19 July 2016 in News

UK higher education reforms will impact on Scottish research at a time when the EU referendum is already causing a problem, ministers hear

Laboratory - credit PA

The quality and reach of scientific research has already been damaged by the Brexit vote, according to seven academies in science, medicine and engineering.

In a joint letter, presidents of the institutions called for research funding to be prioritised in negotiations to take the UK out of the European Union after the recent referendum result.

UK universities currently receive £850m of EU research funding, but British teams are reportedly already being left off collaborative European applications due to uncertainty about the future.


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Presidents of the Royal Society, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Academy of Medical Sciences, the British Academy, the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Royal Irish Academy and the Learned Society of Wales signed the letter.

“The UK's outstanding research and innovation base is central to our economic, social and cultural well-being.

“The result of the EU Referendum presents a challenge to maintaining this excellence. The current uncertainty is having immediate implications and raises many questions,” the letter said.

Although higher education is devolved, a number of Scottish researchers have benefited from grants via the UK and the Horizon 2020 research stream from the European Commission.

The letter comes as the UK Government puts its Higher Education and Research bill before the House of Commons.

Proposals include part-merging research councils and Innovate UK into a new arms-length body to distribute funding called United Kingdom Research and Innovation (UKRI), which would be separated from teaching.

Labour's Shadow education minister Gordon Marsden said he had concerns about how the new body would interact with the devolved nations.

“We don’t think this was a bill fit for purpose before the referendum on June 23, let alone in the chaos after it,” he said.

The SNP's Carol Monoghan called for Scotland to be represented on the UKRI councils. 

Last week’s UK Cabinet reshuffle saw higher education being brought under the responsibility of new education secretary Justine Greening, while research funding falls under the new department for business, energy and industrial strategy.

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