Brexit’s impact on research

I have my fingers crossed that today, Parliament will legislate to rule out a ‘no-deal’ Brexit. Even assuming the law is passed, it could still happen as it remains the default position of Article 50.

But we don’t need a ‘no-deal’ for the impact of Brexit to be disastrous for UK research. That in turn would be disastrous for industry, for regional economies and ultimately for the national economy.

Let’s consider just one field of study: engineering research. Around a fifth of the research that takes place in UK universities and part of a sector that generate 27% of UK GDP. The Engineering Professors’ Council (EPC) has just published some new research on this. 

Around 15% of UK engineering research is funded from the EU. That has a knock-on effect on local businesses, regional economies and ultimately the whole nation. If you remove access to that funding, there is a cascade of effects which would be damaging in every part of the country, but some far more than others. 

In Wales, for example, relative to the size of the regional economy, the removal of EU funding would hit far harder than the North West. All the chemical engineering research in the whole of Wales was EU-funded. It’s almost as bad in Scotland, Yorkshire & Humberside, and the East Midlands. Nowhere would escape the damage though. 

Even if the Government stepped in to replace the EU funding penny for penny (which it has made no commitment to do), the damage would still be## huge. The EPC calculates that the Government would need to fund engineering research in higher education by 3.35 times as much to compensate for the loss of the benefits that arises from EU funding. It’s not just the money, you see. It’s the collaborations and contacts. It’s the access to facilities and projects that no country could afford on its own. It’s the business spin-offs and ability to attract overseas talent. 

This all flies in the face of almost every Government policy: the Industrial Strategy, the target of 2.4% of GDP spent on R&D, the desire to increase education exports. The only policy helped is Brexit for Brexit’s sake.

The impact on engineering research alone should be enough to make the UK reconsider Brexit. The impact on all UK research should focus our reconsideration. The impact on regional economies should turn that focus to fear. And the impact on the nation as a whole should make us reject a policy, the basis for which is ideology in spite of reality. 

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