Future UK scientific success will rely on international allies, say experts

17 October 2017

18 Oct 2017

The UK government must look to build long-lasting and deep international partnerships outside of the EU to succeed in our future aims for science and technology, say science policy experts. Many of these goals were set out by the Industrial Strategy Green Paper that was published in January of this year.

Image: Dave Kellam@Flickr

Brexit is a complicated, and often sensitive, source of debate; a mood that was reflected at Westminster Higher Education Forum’s ‘The future for international research partnerships: responding to Brexit, the Newton Fund, and new relationships’ event, held on 17 October.

‘No-one is pretending [Brexit] is a good situation,’ said Daniel Zeichner MP, whose constituency of Cambridge is home to Europe’s largest commercial research centre, Cambridge Science Park. Computational cosmologist Prof Carlos Frenk, University of Durham, echoed these sentiments, adding that the UK was at risk of losing EU-national academics if their working rights and status were not confirmed urgently.

Frenk also called for ‘barrier free transit for high-tech equipment across the EU,’ warning that the UK could lose out on industry, new businesses, and research quality if the government does not agree a relationship with the EU that would guarantee ease of access to these goods.

To combat these issues, the UK is looking to build more international partnerships, said Prof Stuart Taberner, Director of International and Interdisciplinary Research at RCUK. The government is looking to build relationships with emerging powerhouses, such as India and China, that are similar to the agreement signed with the US last month.  

The Newton Fund, which aims to form science and innovation partnerships with developing countries to help answer the research question that matter to them, will be a particularly effective tool in building these relationships, said Taberner. £735 million will be invested into this programme by 2021.

Tom Thackray, Director for Innovation at CBI, noted that the government promise to increase R&D spending to 3% GDP was a sign that science and innovation was a priority for the UK, even after Brexit. ‘There is no question that innovation is important for a prosperous economy and society,’ he said.

Thackray reiterated the advantages of international collaboration stating that ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’. However, access to framework programmes, such as Horizon 2020, is also important to industry, he said, as it helps SMEs start conversation with academia and supports them in building international profiles.

By Georgina Hines

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