Leaving the European Union would mean the UK could spend more on research, still take part in the EU’s research programmes and attract more academics from beyond Europe, according to Vote Leave.
The organisation’s written submission to a House of Lords inquiry on the relationship between EU membership and UK science is the first official statement on higher education and research from one of the bodies campaigning for the nation to leave the union.
Universities UK is calling for the nation to remain in the EU, via its Universities for Europe campaign, which aims to “show the value of EU membership to our universities and why this matters to British people”.
Vote Leave, one of the two anti-EU campaigns alongside Leave EU, notes that the UK is a net contributor to the EU budget. It says in its submission: “Because the UK is a member of the European Union, UK taxpayers have to make large budget contributions to fund the things the EU deems…priorities – reducing the monies available to invest in our own priorities such as scientific research.”
It adds: “Science research should replace EU membership as a fundamental priority for national policy.”
Vote Leave also says that there is “no reason why the UK would not still be able to access EU funding or collaborative projects if it left the European Union”, citing the participation of non-EU members Switzerland, Israel and Moldova in Framework Programme 7, the EU’s previous research programme.
Opponents of a Brexit have noted the fallout from the 2014 Swiss referendum that backed tougher rules on immigration, arguing that this shows that access to EU research programmes can easily be withdrawn for non-member states.
After the Swiss referendum, the EU, which sees freedom of movement as a keystone of the single market, suspended talks over Switzerland’s participation in Horizon 2020, its latest research programme, and the Erasmus+ student mobility programme.
Vote Leave notes that Switzerland and the EU “were able to agree a ‘partial association’”, which “means that Horizon 2020 funds…are still reaching Switzerland”.
On migration, Vote Leave says that EU membership and freedom of movement mean that the UK has “no control over the majority of net migration”.
In turn, this means “that any government seeking to reduce net migration has to place tighter restrictions on non-EU migration – even if that means restrictions on non-EU scientists and innovators”.
“This is harmful for the science and technology sector,” the group continues. “The importance of strengthening links to countries beyond the confines of the European Union cannot be overstated.”
UUK’s submission to the inquiry notes that the UK is “highly successful at securing funding under the EU’s programmes to support research” and highlights the “opportunities for collaboration (both bilateral and multilateral) and researcher mobility which are facilitated by our membership of the EU. Both international collaboration and researcher mobility are drivers of quality in research.”
It also says that if the UK “were to leave the EU but negotiate associate status for the purposes of its research programmes, any involvement in programmes would still require adherence to their administrative requirements – we would simply have lost the opportunity to shape these requirements, and to ensure they are effective in a UK context”.