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UK must retain and attract ‘scientific talent’ post Brexit, insist Peers

Essential to ensure UK has prominent place in global economy

Caroline White

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

The UK must retain ‘scientific talent’ and attract even more of the world’s leading scientists in the wake of Brexit to ensure it has a prominent place in the global economy, concludes a report* published today by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee.

The UK should not only expand and enhance existing programmes, but should also search out the world’s most accomplished scientists and persuade them to pursue careers here.

The government needs to send out repeated signals to the global science community that the UK remains a welcoming place for talented scientists to work, it says.

The report recognises that there is little hard evidence of scientists from other EU member states deciding not to come to the UK in the wake of the referendum, or vice versa. But there is a clear perception in the scientific community that discrimination is occurring, it insists.

While the Committee welcomes the major increase in science funding announced in the 2016 Autumn Statement, it recommends that the science and research budget should be re-calculated as soon as possible to compensate fully for any reduction in funds coming from the EU.

Leaders of the UK scientific community should not focus exclusively on UK-EU negotiations, says the report. They should also take the time to explore scientific collaborations and shared protocols with the rest of the world, especially where there is potential to build on existing relationships such as ones currently enjoyed with the US, it recommends.

The UK should offer to host, in partnership with governments and funding bodies from other countries, one or more new, large-scale international research facilities. This would be a bold move to signal the UK’s global standing in science, the report suggests.

The report maintains that the government should distinguish in the immigration statistics and the net migration target between students—holding Tier 4 visas—and other immigrants; and should treat student numbers separately for policy purposes.

Uncertainty over the future relationship between EU and UK science is having a corrosive effect on the UK research base, insists the report. But the government has the power to mitigate many negative effects of Brexit and use it as a catalyst to address long-standing underperformance in economic productivity, it suggests.

But the government must ensure that it has appropriate scientific advice during the Brexit negotiations. The voice of the scientific community should be heard alongside the voice of business and in making future alliances, it says.

Lord Selborne, who chairs the Committee, commented that the government had been making positive noises about protecting scientific endeavour in the wake of Brexit.

But he said: The UK's outstanding reputation and performance in the scientific world depends critically on redoubling efforts to persuade many of the world's most talented scientists to pursue careers in this country. Our proposal to find global scientific leaders will help to tackle this and nurture the next generation of research leaders in the UK.”

He added: “It is vital the UK is still seen as open to scientific talent; the Government has the ability to send this message to the scientific community enabling us to become world leaders after Brexit and beyond.”

* A time for boldness: EU membership and UK science after the referendum. Science and Technology Committee, 1st Report of Session 2016-17 - published 20 December 2016 - HL Paper 85

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