Brexit could harm UK’s science base report warns

The UK could lose strategic influence on EU science policy in the event of a Brexit.

This is one of the conclusions from a report published by the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee, which also found Britain’s science and engineering community placing notable value on continued membership of the European Union.

The Committee concluded that the UK plays a leading role in the development of EU policies and decision-making processes that relate to science and research, but expressed concern over the poor level of engagement by large businesses in securing EU funding.

In its key findings, the committee reports that the status of the funding relationship between the UK and the EU is a complex one but gives significant value to UK science from the European Union with 18.3 per cent of all the UK’s incoming EU funding going on scientific research and development.

The Committee add that the EU’s main funding system for science rewards excellence and the inquiry heard that the UK is one of the EU’s top performers in terms of securing these competitive funding streams.

However, the report also acknowledges that even those who are most in favour of continued EU membership criticised aspects of the UK’s relationship to it. In the event that the UK chooses to remain part of the EU, there would be scope for government to advance reforms to enhance the relationship between the EU and UK science and research.

The report follows a survey conducted by the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) that found three quarters of participants in favour of Britain remaining in the EU.

The IChemE UK Research Committee, and other witnesses, put to the Committee that one of the most significant aspects of the UK’s EU membership is the provision of opportunities to collaborate.

The report concludes that the EU has three main influences on science and engineering: the provision of collaborative funding schemes and programmes; ensuring researcher mobility; and facilitating and fostering participation in shared pan-European research infrastructures.

The full House of Lords report can be found here.

In a separate development, members of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering’s trustee board and judging panel have written to The Times calling on global governments to preserve education and research and development spending. The call comes as the QEPrize opens for 2017 nominations.

The letter – signed by the QEPrize judges and trustees, comprising academics, business leaders and heads of engineering associations from the UK, Germany, America, Japan, India, Switzerland and Singapore – cites engineering as a driver of productivity and emphasises technology’s increasing impact on human life as a reason for safeguarding education and R&D funds.

In a statement, Lord Browne of Madingley, chairman of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering Foundation, said: “In order for governments to reap the benefits from engineers they need to protect their research and development budgets.”

“Through protecting this investment, engineers will be empowered and able to continue solving the world’s greatest challenges.

“Some of these engineers may go on to be the next QEPrize winner, but if not, they will at the very least provide their governments with more vital skills, goods and services which can be exported or traded to benefit their country.”