The United Kingdom’s scientific research community reacted with concern when Britain voted to leave the EU on June 23 of 2016. Many in the community had campaigned against “Brexit,” as the leave campaign became known, on the grounds that the UK is a major beneficiary of the EU’s support for research. One pre-ballot poll found that 93% of research scientists and engineers thought that the EU was a “major benefit” to UK research.
The science community’s fears seemed to have foundation. Within days of the referendum, researchers were reporting a backlash among their European counterparts. European researchers working in the UK also began to worry about their future, and the risk that they would have to leave when Brexit finally happens.
Financial support for research comes mostly through a series of five-year Framework Programmes. (The exact duration depends on how long the EU’s 28 member governments take to agree on what they want to do.) In the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), from 2007 to 2013, the UK received around €7 billion. The EU is now awarding grants for the next Framework Programme, known as Horizon 2020, with a budget of €74.8 billion for the period 2014–2020.
The UK’s success rate in bidding for funds in FP7 was 22.8% against an EU average of 20.5%. According to The Royal Society, 71% of the funds awarded to the UK during FP7 went to universities. A survey by the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) and the Engineering Professors’ Council (EPC) found that EU government sources made up 10% of income in higher education institutions in 2013 to 2014.
The UK also ranked second, after Germany, among the 28 member states in the number of participants and cash received. According to The Royal Society, “EU research funding through Framework Programme 7 represented 3% of UK expenditure on research and development between 2007 and 2013.” When the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee carried out its inquiry “EU membership and UK science,” it said, “We heard from universities that this funding is equivalent to having another Research Council.”
The other major issue in Brexit is the movement of students and researchers throughout Europe. The “free movement” of citizens is a cornerstone of the EU’s foundations. The threat of “cheap labor” from Eastern Europe, including such countries as Romania, Hungary, and Poland, fueled much of the anti-EU sentiment that led to the Brexit vote. The grassroots lobby group, Scientists for EU, claims that “in the ‘science and maths’ higher education workforce in the UK, 21% are immigrants from the EU.”
There are already signs of Brexit affecting the behavior of researchers. Although it is too early to say if there are any obvious effects yet, it might be inevitable that European partners are much less likely to contact the UK to be a partner in grant proposals which are being written now.
Source: "Brexit Leaves UK Scientific Research Community In Uncertainty". Cambridge Core. N.p., 2017. Web. 24 Apr. 2017.