The UK needs to make several decisive steps to secure its science reputation before and after fateful Brexit divorce talks, according to a new policy brief by King’s College London.
Ahead of Brexit talks, which are likely to start next month, the immediate priorities for science include building relationships, providing reassurances to foreign researchers in the UK and managing perceptions.
The status of EU27 researchers and students currently in the UK, for now viewed by the government as bargaining chips to secure concessions from the EU in talks, needs clarifying.
Any perceived move to limit the openness or international outlook of the sector could impact on the brand of UK research, the brief says. “This is important not only for this group, but also for other researchers and students considering a move to the UK.”
It is also important to carry out a full audit of the research scene in the UK. Highlighting research strengths could help ensure that the UK remains an attractive collaborating partner, the logic goes.
“Much of this analysis may exist in some form already, but bringing it together could strengthen the sector’s influence and promote a unified negotiating position,” the brief says.
It may also build support among other EU member states for the UK’s continued involvement in EU Framework Programmes.
The ideas came out of a policy lab jointly hosted by the Policy Institute at King’s in partnership with Universities UK and Digital Science.
Participants included vice-chancellors and pro-vice-chancellors from universities, as well as research funders, people with experience from the private sector and international policy experts.
The brief also covers the worst case scenario, which sees the UK failing to secure access to future EU research programmes. In this case, a new fund should be quickly created to replace resources previously provided by EU Framework programmes and attract talent to the UK. It should base its design on the European Research Council, the brief says.
As extra insurance for the UK’s science reputation after Brexit, the government should also build or help attract “unique” science labs. “Investing in one or two large, unique infrastructure projects could both build international collaboration in the relevant field and attract overseas talent to the UK,” says the brief.
Such an investment could be made nationally, if funds were available, or could involve UK institutions bidding to host international facilities.
Also, should movement of researchers become more restricted after Brexit, “ensuring a pipeline of home grown talent will be essential.” This will require extra investment in training and schemes for the movement of researchers between academic and private sectors.