The Wellcome Trust has said that the UK must remain part of the European research system if it is to invest “confidently” in science in the country after Brexit.
The world’s second highest-spending charitable foundation, which distributes the majority of its £1 billion annual outlay in the UK, has written to the leaders of all the major political parties ahead of the 8 June general election, urging them to make the UK an associate member of European Union research funding schemes.
The charity also says that the next government should increase science funding and provide a migration system that welcomes researchers.
In the letter, the trust “sets out the conditions that we believe are necessary to sustain the scientific excellence that allows us to invest here so confidently, and which advance health and economic prosperity”.
It is signed by Baroness Manningham-Buller, the charity’s chair, and Jeremy Farrar, its director, and has been sent to the leaders of the Conservative Party, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats, as well as the Green Party and parties in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The letter says that the next UK government will “face an important choice” between continuing to look outward as an open nation in research or allowing its focus to “drift inward” and close the doors to international collaboration and talent.
The authors urge the future government to make strong investments in science and innovation. They say that the UK should meet the “international benchmark” and spend 3 per cent of gross domestic product on research and development across public and private sectors.
They also highlight the importance of incentive schemes to encourage international collaboration in science, such as the European Commission’s Framework Programme.
“It would be a mistake to walk away from a system that the UK has worked so hard to get right over many years, and from which we could continue to receive more funding than we contribute, or to replace it with purely domestic funding that does not promote collaboration as effectively,” the letter says.
The next government should “commit” to making the UK an associate member of EU research funding schemes, the Wellcome Trust says.
And any new migration system “must be straightforward and truly welcoming to researchers, technicians, innovators, and their families, at all career stages and from all over the world”. This openness, the trust continues, is “entirely compatible” with gaining control over total migrant numbers.
“It could be achieved if the next government were to work with the academic institutions and high-tech businesses that it will rely on for growth to design the migration system that can enable this to happen, including sponsoring appropriate candidates for visas,” say Lady Manningham-Buller and Professor Farrar.