Immigrate to Innovate

It’s easy to lose count of the number of bold new acronym-strewn initiatives aimed at attracting students into the engineering profession.

But with the majority of these efforts focusing on home-grown skills, a report out today warns that we need to do more to stimulate an equally critical and somewhat-unsung component of the UK’s engineering workforce: overseas talent.

From the physics laboratories at Harwell, to the key advances made in our medical devices and energy industries, the UK has long punched well above its weight in terms of world-leading facilities and R&D. But today’s report, released by pressure group Campaign For Science and Engineering (CASE), warns that at a time when competition for the best and the brightest scientists and engineers is fierce, the UK risks becoming a less attractive destination for top engineers.

Urging the government to take action against this feared brain drain the report calls for a new strategy which brings coherence to migration and science policy and removes caps on migration of skilled scientists and engineers. Its author, CASE director Nick Dusic said, ‘The government needs to bring a new coherence to its science and migration policies, which can at times contradict each other. The new points based migration system needs to be more consistent with making sure that the best scientists and engineers are keen to work and study in the UK.’ He pointed to the US, where the tightening of immigration measures post 9/11 led to a slump in post-graduate student numbers that’s only now beginning to recover. ‘The UK,’ he writes ‘can not afford to make the same mistake.’

With signs that far-right organisations like the BNP are exploiting the current economic climate to stir up anti-immigration sentiment, this CASE report is a welcome piece of clear-thinking. If the UK can continue to be seen as an attractive destination for the world’s top scientists, we will not only enjoy the benefits of employing the world’s brightest and best, but will also succeed in inspiring home-grown talent to choose a career in an industry that is admired the world over.

Jon Excell

Deputy Editor