What Are the Impacts of Brexit on UK’s Scientific Research Funding?

April 5, 2024

Brexit, an event that has dominated British politics for the last decade, has led to a major shakeup in various sectors of the country. One of the most impacted areas is the scientific research sector. The changes that we’re seeing in the world of science in Britain, due to the country’s decision to leave the European Union, are significant and far-reaching. The UK’s departure from the EU has created considerable uncertainties with regards to scientific research funding, international collaboration and the future of innovation in the country.

The Pre-Brexit Era: How Things Used to Be

The UK had a strong scientific research sector pre-Brexit, being one of the key beneficiaries of the Horizon 2020, the EU’s main instrument for funding scientific research and innovation. In this section, we’ll look at how things used to be before Brexit and the benefits that the UK enjoyed as part of the European Union.

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The Horizon 2020 was an initiative that ran from 2014 to 2020, and it had a budget of nearly €80 billion. This funding was open to all EU countries and some non-EU countries as well. The UK, being a prominent member of the EU and a leading player in scientific research, received a significant portion of these funds. British scientists and researchers thrived under this system, collaborating with colleagues across Europe and contributing significantly to global scientific development.

The EU not only provided financial resources but also fostered an environment of open collaboration. Researchers from across the European countries could freely exchange ideas, work together on projects, and utilize shared resources for scientific exploration. This cross-border collaboration helped to drive innovation, as scientists could benefit from different perspectives and expertise.

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The Post-Brexit Scenario: The Immediate Impact

Brexit has brought about a seismic shift in the UK’s scientific research landscape. The immediate impact has been a decrease in available funding for British scientists, along with increased challenges in fostering international collaborations.

As the UK completed its departure from the European Union in 2020, it also left the Horizon 2020 programme. This meant an immediate reduction in the available funding for scientific research in the UK. British scientists and researchers lost access to a significant portion of their funding, leading to concerns about the future of scientific research in the country.

The loss of funding was further compounded by the new barriers to international collaboration. Previously, British scientists could easily collaborate with their European counterparts, but Brexit has made this more difficult. The free movement of scientists and researchers between the UK and EU has been restricted, making it harder for UK-based scientists to work on joint projects with their EU counterparts.

Brexit and Scientific Innovation

Brexit’s impact on scientific innovation in the UK is more nuanced. On one hand, it presents new challenges and uncertainties. On the other, it is also seen by some as a potential opportunity for the country to chart its own course in scientific research and development.

The impact of Brexit on the ability of British scientists to collaborate with their European counterparts is a significant concern. Collaboration is a key part of scientific innovation, allowing scientists to share ideas, resources, and expertise. The potential barriers to this collaboration, as a result of Brexit, could slow the pace of scientific innovation in the UK.

However, some see Brexit as a chance for the UK to redefine its scientific research sector. With the freedom to set its own priorities and policies, the UK government could decide to invest more heavily in certain areas of research, promoting innovation in those fields.

The Government’s Response: New Funding Initiatives

In response to these challenges, the UK government has taken steps to reassure the scientific community and establish new funding initiatives to replace those lost due to Brexit.

One such initiative is the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), which is tasked with ensuring that the UK maintains its world-leading position in research and innovation. The UKRI is responsible for allocating funding for scientific research and has a budget of over £6 billion.

Moreover, the UK government has also indicated that it is open to joining the upcoming Horizon Europe, the successor to Horizon 2020. However, the terms of the UK’s participation are still under negotiation.

The Future of Scientific Research Post-Brexit

The future of scientific research in the UK post-Brexit is still uncertain, with both challenges and opportunities ahead. The loss of EU funding and potential barriers to international collaboration are significant hurdles. However, the UK government’s commitment to research and innovation, along with potential new funding initiatives, could help to mitigate these issues.

Despite the uncertainties, the UK’s scientific community remains resilient. They are determined to navigate the post-Brexit landscape, continue their key work, and contribute to the global scientific community. The UK has a strong tradition of scientific research and innovation, and this foundation will be crucial as the country adapts to its new relationship with the European Union.

Brexit represents a significant change for the UK and its scientific research sector. But with the right strategies, investment and commitment to international collaboration, the UK’s scientific community can continue to thrive and make significant contributions to the world of science.

The Royal Society’s Perspective: Risks and Opportunities

The Royal Society, the UK’s independent scientific academy, has been actively engaged in examining the implications of Brexit on scientific research and innovation. Their perspectives offer valuable insights into both the risks and opportunities that Brexit presents for the UK’s scientific community.

The Royal Society has highlighted concerns about the impact of Brexit on UK’s capacity to attract top talent. Historically, the UK had been a preferred destination for many scientists and researchers from the European Union and other parts of the world. The ability to move freely between the UK and the EU had been a major draw, enabling international collaboration and the cross-pollination of ideas. Post Brexit, the UK could face challenges in attracting and retaining such talent, potentially affecting the quality of scientific research in the country.

In terms of funding, the Royal Society has expressed concern about the level of uncertainty surrounding the UK’s future relationship with major European research funding programs like Horizon Europe. This uncertainty could make it more difficult for UK scientists to plan and secure funding for long-term research projects.

Despite the risks, the Royal Society also sees opportunities in the post-Brexit landscape. It suggests the UK could potentially leverage Brexit to develop a more globally-oriented research and innovation strategy. This could involve forging new partnerships with countries outside of the EU, increasing investment in science and technology and creating a more attractive environment for international researchers.

Conclusion: Navigating the Post-Brexit Landscape

Brexit has undoubtedly introduced a significant level of uncertainty and complexity to the UK’s scientific research sector. The loss of EU funding and potential barriers to international collaboration could pose substantial challenges to the UK’s position as a leading player in global scientific research.

However, despite these hurdles, there are also opportunities for the UK to redefine and strengthen its scientific research sector. Increased investment in research and development, new funding initiatives like the UK Research and Innovation, and the potential to join Horizon Europe present positive avenues.

The Royal Society and the broader scientific community in the UK have shown resilience and adaptability in the face of these changes. Through proactive engagement with the government, they have helped shape new strategies and initiatives to safeguard the future of scientific research in the country.

The UK’s future relationship with the EU and its role in international scientific research and innovation will continue to evolve in the years following Brexit. It will be crucial for the UK to strike a balance between maintaining its existing ties with the European research community and exploring new partnerships and opportunities outside of the EU.

While Brexit represents a significant turning point, the underlying strength of the UK’s scientific research sector and the commitment of its scientific community offer reasons for optimism. By embracing change and navigating challenges, the UK can continue to be a driving force in global scientific research and innovation.