Offer research stars 10 years of funding in UK, report argues

Lords report urges government to step up efforts to attract academics in wake of Brexit vote

December 20, 2016
People in boat look ahead
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Compelling offers: the UK must search for outstanding scientists and ‘persuade them to pursue new careers here’, said the report

The UK should scour the globe to attract “outstanding scientific leaders” with the promise of a decade of research funding in order to help offset negative messages put out by the Brexit vote, a House of Lords committee has recommended.

To help science flourish after Brexit – which could impose visa restrictions on continental scientists and mean the UK losing European Union research funds – Britain “must search for these scientists and persuade them to pursue careers here”, the committee’s new report, released on 20 December, argues.

National academies and UK Research and Innovation, the new funding body that is currently being set up, should “search the globe for outstanding scientific leaders, and attract them to the UK with compelling offers of research funding for their first 10 years in the UK and support for their immediate families as they settle into the UK”, it says.

The report argues that by poaching these research stars the UK may be better able to attract investment from international businesses and not-for-profit organisations.

The House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee also argues that other scholarship programmes need to be stepped up to attract top researchers from abroad to counter the influence of the referendum result and “mixed messages” on immigration from the government since.

This includes the Chevening Scholarships, one of the UK’s soft power tools, which offer places at British universities to those thought to be likely “future leaders, influencers, and decision-makers”.

New scholarships for “talented” early career researchers should also be created, the report says, and offered to those both from the UK and overseas “to nurture the next generation of research leaders in the UK”.

Another concrete suggestion from the Lords report is to build at least one more major international research facility – such as the recently opened Francis Crick Institute in London – to “reinforce the UK’s global standing in science”.

The report warns that unless the negative impact is “mitigated”, Brexit means that the UK will “inevitably become a less attractive destination for talented people, research and development (R&D) investors and scientific partners”.

But it also finds little concrete evidence of either UK-based researchers being discriminated against in bids for EU funding, or EU-based researchers turning down jobs in the UK owing to fears over their future.

The report also tries to convince the government that the UK public are supportive of immigration by researchers. Nearly half of people questioned in the survey conducted in August said that they wanted more immigration by scientists and researchers, while only 13 per cent wanted a reduction, the report says. “We would remind the government that the public’s views on immigration are more nuanced than newspaper headlines might suggest,” it says.

However, there is still no agreement in place over the future status of EU citizens in the UK, or UK citizens in the rest of the EU, a delay that is having a “corrosive effect on the UK science base”, the committee warns.

Johnson unmoved on future of EU research funding for UK

Jo Johnson has refused to offer any commitment that the UK government will try to ensure that the nation remains part of the European Union’s research programmes after Brexit.

The universities and science minister was responding during a House of Commons debate on Brexit implications for science and research on 19 December.

Neil Carmichael, the Conservative chair of the Commons education committee, asked him whether the government plans to “seek associate country status for Horizon 2020”, the EU’s current research programme.

Associate country status allows non-member states to take part in EU research programmes, which include highly prestigious European Research Council grants.

“These are important questions, which…will form a significant part of the overall discussions around our future relations with the EU,” Mr Johnson replied. “We recognise the benefits of collaboration with European partners and we will seek to ensure that we can continue to derive strong collaboration arrangements all around the world.”

Meanwhile, Theresa May, the prime minister, gave limited answers when questioned about international students being included in the UK government’s net migration target when she appeared before the Commons liaison committee on 20 December.

Questioned about support from her Cabinet colleagues for taking students out of the target, Ms May said that including students in the target was in line with international practice.
John Morgan

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