Barriers after Brexit “would harm science”, warn leading research universities

Impediments to collaborative cross border research because of Brexit would be detrimental to scientific progress, a leading group of UK universities has warned.

The Russell Group said that science and research should be a priority during negotiations between the EU and the UK.

Barriers to collaboration “would be bad for the UK and bad for Europe” said Russell Group acting director, Tim Bradshaw.

“Working together, Russell Group universities and European partners have made huge breakthroughs in medicine, engineering and any number of other fields,” he said.

“Nearly half of all UK academic articles result from international collaboration and EU member states are some of our biggest partners. These relationships improve the quality of UK research and underpin the strength of our science base.

“Joint working will continue after Brexit but there would be no winners from restrictive new barriers to collaboration. That would be bad for the UK and bad for Europe.”

As part of formulating the “closet possible relationship” with the EU post-Brexit, Bradshaw called for the rights of EU scientists, researchers and students at Russell Group universities to be guaranteed.

“The 86,000 citizens of other EU member states who work and study at Russell Group universities help ensure our institutions remain dynamic and innovative,” he said.

“We value our EU colleagues very highly and need urgent assurances that, after Brexit, they will retain the same rights to stay and work in the UK that they have now.”

British universities benefit from the some of the most generous allocations of the EU’s Horizon 2020 research fund.

It is possible for non-EU nations to receive Horizon 2020 funding, but a major stipulation is allowing freedom of movement for researchers – a potential obstacle given the Tories pledge to reduce immigration to the “tens of thousands”.

The Conservative election manifesto pledges to “collaborate in science and innovation” with the EU, however it signals that joint research may be on a narrower remit than at present.

“There may be specific European programmes in which we might want to participate and if so, it will be reasonable that we make a contribution,” the manifesto states.

Labour’s manifesto promises to “ensure that the UK maintains our leading research role by seeking to stay part of Horizon 2020 and its successor programmes and by welcoming research staff to the UK”.

A Labour government would also seek membership, or the equivalent, of the nuclear Euratom agreement and the European Medicines Agency.