Big Thinkers Debates | Debates
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Whatever else Brexit means, it has already meant a big rethink in the way UK researchers collaborate with their opposite numbers in Europe. Within days of the referendum, academics were reporting they were being frozen out of EU-funded proposals, and that overseas appointees were reconsidering their posts.

Innovation is key to the economy – 53% of UK businesses identified themselves as innovative according to a recent study by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills[1]– and international collaboration underpins much innovation, a key driver of the knowledge economy. More than a half of UK scientific papers had international co-authors, the Royal Society reported[2] earlier this year; the co-authors were European on 60% of those.

That is why there is so much concern around the impact on R&D from Brexit. Particularly as Horizon 2020, the current €80-billion research programme, has a deliberate focus on industry participation.

Tale of a loss foretold

The future under Brexit has already been tested by Switzerland. In 2014, the country voted by a 50.3% majority to restrict migration from the EU, and swiftly found its participation in key science programmes limited.

In particular Swiss researchers similarly found they were less welcome on Horizon 2020 projects. As a temporary measure, the Swiss were able to negotiate partial association to the programme, but that expires at the end of this year, unless the migration restrictions are revoked. Like the UK government, the Swiss government moved to substitute direct funding to replace lost Horizon 2020 funding, so that Swiss researchers could continue to participate in European projects. Researchers however lose leadership role: Swiss groups had led in 3.9% of projects under Foresight 7; that has shrunk to 0.3% in the first tranche of Horizon 2020. And the nation loses the opportunity to influence the direction of Horizon 2020 programmes.

Crossing boundaires

Much of the public debate to date has focused on the position of universities. But research is the lifeblood of many industries. This is the focus of efforts at Innovate UK, the Research Councils UK, as well as the Horizon 2020 programme, where collaboration between commercial and academic partners is a central aim. Every £1 of public investment in R&D adds £4 to the value of market sector output, on top of the £7 added by privately funded R&D. Access to the European research base, and to European researchers and funding, is a key aspect of this growth.

The Big Thinkers Debate the questions we will tackle

Before an invited audience of key figures from the worlds of science & technology, economics, politics, business, and the media, an expert panel will debate how UK science and technology can continue to thrive during Brexit negotiations, and in their aftermath.

  • How do UK researchers retain their central and leading roles in pan-European research projects?
  • What barriers will UK R&D-intensive businesses find to cross-European collaboration? How can they be reduced?
  • What measures are needed to recruit and retain top EU and world talent to the UK research sector?
  • What lessons can be learned from the Swiss experience?
  • What is the view from Brussels?
  • What are the prospects for expanding research collaboration beyond the EU?


Coming soon

[1] UK Innovation Survey 2015 – Main report
[2] RS: UK research and the European Union, 2016