Following the referendum result, many questions have been raised around the future of UK research and scholarship in a post-Brexit world. On 11th November, a panel session organised by the Academia Europaea Cardiff Knowledge Hub, explored ideas about how best to pursue European and other international collaborations in a post-Brexit world.
Professor Richard Catlow, the incoming Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society, gave the opening talk. UK STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is a real success story and makes a significant contribution to the British economy and society. Science is global and the UK attracts some of the world’s most outstanding scientists and students. Through three examples of EU-supported projects in the field of new materials for energy technologies, he demonstrated the importance of collaboration not only between academic institutions but also with leading industrial partners. The potential threats to the future were therefore not only possible loss of funding but the risk to relationship-building and networks, the recruitment of world-class researchers, and leadership. He urged the audience to continue to demonstrate that UK scientists remain ‘good Europeans’ and committed to global science.
The panel session was moderated by Professor Peter Halligan, Chief Executive of the Learned Society of Wales.
Sir John Skehel, Vice-President of the Royal Society, made a number of positive remarks about the relationship between the Royal Society and those responsible for the Brexit negotiations, including the Minister, David Davis. He stressed the importance of building strong connections with all key stakeholders. The support of the general public to the science sector was vital, as well as collaboration with other sectors, including the City, business and industry. With considerable European funding awarded to industry, there was an excellent opportunity to present jointly-developed business cases and success stories.
Professor Nora de Leeuw, Cardiff University pro-Vice Chancellor for International and Europe, stressed that Cardiff was a global university. She emphasised the importance of the successful partnership with KU Leuven and a newly-established strategic partnership with Xiamen University in China, as well as capacity-building and networking projects in Africa. Cardiff was committed to giving home students the chance to spend time overseas, either studying, working or volunteering, and EU students were still paying the same fees as home students. The UK remained a key partner in Horizon 2020 programmes.
Professor Ole Petersen, Academic Director of the Cardiff Hub and Vice-President of Academia Europaea, highlighted the success of the UK in European funding programmes, the ability to attract top talent from Continental Europe and the importance of maintaining this position for a strong science base. He pointed out that the UK spends a comparatively low percentage of GDP on science compared to other countries such as Germany. If participation in European programmes were to be discontinued, the UK Government would need to increase science funding significantly to stay as a world leader in science. Professor Petersen focused on the role of science in policymaking, specifically the new European Scientific Advice Mechanism, in which the Cardiff Hub is playing an active role in a supporting project. Such work presented a huge opportunity to shape best practice in providing science advice for policymaking and to continue to influence European science policy.
Professor Angela Casini, a Board Member of the Young Academy of Europe (YAE), spoke about the need for early and mid-career researchers to engage with policymakers and contribute to the science agenda, making it vital for the UK to remain relevant to science and policymaking. The YAE and Academia Europaea have been in partnership since 2012 and Professor Casini is keen to develop the relationship further, including organising joint events with the Cardiff Hub.
The audience were eager contributors to an active discussion. The main themes centred on the importance of a joined-up approach to advocacy and the need for relationship-building between the main stakeholders. As concrete examples, there had been a number of practical initiatives following the referendum; 7 UK academies issued a joint open letter and 35 European academies publishing a joint statement in July. The Russell Group of research-intensive universities had recently visited Brussels.
The importance of public support was voiced, with a widely-held view that the public was generally pro-science and science communication had been successful over recent years. It was now vital to show the public how they benefitted from international collaboration. Nora de Leeuw emphasised that Cardiff University was actively engaged with local communities in the city and surrounding region. Sir John Skehel spoke about the importance of the new UK industrial strategy now taking shape, with a potential pivotal role for universities.
In conclusion, all agreed that openness is critical and we remain open for business. Increasing contacts and nurturing research relationships with colleagues overseas are crucial to success. When it comes to international science, there are exciting opportunities like the Global Challenges Fund. Maintaining and building bridges into Europe continue to be absolutely vital.