The effect of Brexit on UK science and research & development
Polls show that academics, researchers and scientists overwhelmingly voted to remain part of the European Union. Fears over the impact of Brexit have continued to grow despite reassurances from the UK government. The European Commission today announced major new plans for the future of European science and research funding, but questions remain about whether the UK will be able to participate in this, with continued delays damaging our prospects of future economic growth and prosperity.
The UK contributed €5.4 billion to the EU-wide science funding pot called Horizon 2020, out of a total budget of €50 billion. In return, British universities, researchers and businesses received €8.8 billion in funding. The next round of funding — Horizon Europe — which will run from 2021–2027, is set to have a budget twice as large — of €100bn — but Brexit uncertainty means that the UK still hasn’t secured access to this fund. Losing these European funds would be a critical blow to UK science and research & development (R&D)that has recently been highlighted by the Royal Society, Sir Paul Nurse and many others.
The Chancellor assured scientists after the Brexit referendum that their Horizon 2020 funding would be secured regardless of the outcome of negotiations. However, UCL analysis of EU data shows that the number of projects being led by UK researchers has fallen by over 60% from approximately 50 in each of 2015 and 2016, to just 20 in 2018. Furthermore, the Chancellor’s assurances don’t apply to the upcoming Horizon Europe funding round — this lies in the hands of the Brexit negotiators.
We must reach an association agreement with the EU to ensure that academics and researchers can participate in Horizon Europe. The uncertainty is already damaging one of Britain’s prime exports and dissuading the brightest researchers from moving to the UK. Whilst the outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May and EU Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation Carlos Moedas have committed to the UK participating in Horizon Europe, the incoming Prime Minister must prioritise this agreement.
Furthermore, Horizon Europe will split the €100bn between conventional funding of science projects and a new funding format based around ‘missions’. These missions serve to direct innovation and R&D towards big societal goals such as tackling climate change through more collaborative, cross-sector, entrepreneurial thinking with a bottom-up approach.
The EU has committed to ensuring that the mission-oriented component of Horizon Europe incorporates citizen engagement in its design, delivery and evaluation, which is key to ensuring such a method works and is missing from conventional funding plans. In my capacity as special advisor to Commissioner Moedas I’ve set out what a mission-oriented approach could achieve across the EU funding landscape. The first report helped turn missions into a legal instrument; while my latest report, Governing Missions,is a plan for how this can be delivered. It includes new thinking about citizen engagement, plans for reforming financial and funding structures as well as how the public sector needs to be upskilled to deliver the programme.
A mission-oriented R&D programme can only work if it addresses citizen concerns through the research outputs. The Horizon programme allows a concrete way for research to address concrete social problems like the need for clean air, plastic-free oceans and tackling climate change. But these cannot be handed down from above. Citizen engagement in framing and delivering the missions is key.
Horizon Europe has a bold mission to make research matter. It is crucial that the UK is part of this, not only to ensure a strong future for UK science, but also to solve today’s most complex challenges, from climate change to automation. But perhaps most of all, it has the potential to renew belief — after decades of anti-politics populism — that policies can, when well devised, really matter to daily lives.
Mariana Mazzucato (PhD) is Professor in the Economics of Innovation & Public Value at University College London (UCL), she is the Founding Director of the UCL Institute for Innovation & Public Purpose
George Dibb is the Head of Industrial Strategy & Policy Engagement at UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose (IIPP)
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