Brexit: A new Hurdle for UK Science?

Science and the EU have, for the past few decades, walked hand in hand—the EU funds major collaborative efforts on national, European and global scales, in return for access to the latest innovative technologies. On the 23rd June 2016, however, a new beast emerged, threatening this seemingly happy marriage: Brexit.

It’s hard to go 10 minutes without hearing about Brexit these days: whether it’s about the Boris Johnson-Teresa May “power struggle,” or the endless EU exit talks in Brussels, Brexit fever is just as prevalent as it was on referendum day. In spite of this, it seems as if campaigning against Brexit has become stagnant over recent months, and the general population (particularly the ‘vote remainers’ amongst us) has accepted the inevitable end to years of political turmoil.  

Worryingly, UK access to the single market is not the only endangered species in post-Brexit Britain: science could be in the red too. The potential danger Brexit presents to UK science has been a known reality for a long time: an interview with the former Cambridge University Vice-Chancellor, prior to the referendum, highlights the collective fears of many scientists across the nation. Vice-Chancellor Borysiewicz described the (then potential) leave vote as ‘little short of disastrous,’ causing the UK science sector, and the nation as a whole to lurch ‘into a very uncertain tomorrow.’

The EU funds major collaborative efforts across the continent, resulting in academic breakthroughs on an international scale. Of course, these discoveries lead to innovative technologies that can be applied and distributed across the globe, not only broadening the global knowledge base, but also actively changing lives for the better. According to one article from the BBC, the EU Financial Report for 2014 determined that £806 million was assigned to ‘research, education and innovation,’ out of a total £5.5 billion received from the EU that year.

It is clear to see that, financially, the EU provides a significant amount of support to the UK science sector–a support which will ultimately be severed once Brexit negotiations have finally concluded. On account of this eventual cut to funding, a rather concerning question is brought to the fore: why are we not fighting harder to preserve our science sector?

Academic and education staff, researchers and science students alike will face changes in the future, due to a referendum result which was largely unwanted by them. And it’s not just financial woes that should raise concern: the EU is a bridge to collaboration and international projects, allowing UK researchers to share knowledge with their European peers easily and effectively. In an age when the world is tending towards globalisation and liberalism, the UK is being forced into an isolated corner, in which we can only hope that our ‘patriotism’ will protect us.

Perhaps one of the best examples of collaboration overseas is the European Space Agency. Founded in 1975, the organisation has blossomed into a thriving, world-class international effort, funding, producing, and ultimately projecting some of the most complex technologies into space. Recently, ESA confirmed that it will be co-funding the LISA project in partnership with NASA–a move which was put into contention a matter of months ago, due to uncertainties in ESA cooperation. This ESA-NASA partnership is a shining example of the EU’s effectiveness in leading the world to globalism, and its ability to form new partnerships between UK and other EU countries, and corporations across the world.

It’s one thing to sit and talk about the perils of Brexit, and its looming threat to science as we know it, but it’s another thing to act upon that notion. However, actively contributing to political movements can be time consuming, and distracting from studies. Like most things in politics, change occurs over time, and it takes smaller steps, and persistent local and national effort, to generate the larger outcomes that we wish to see. If you’re interested in contributing to raise awareness for the effects of Brexit on the science sector, here are some ways in which you can get involved:

 

  1. Get following the right people. (On Twitter, that is.)

There are a number of active organisations which promote the UK science sector, and the more followers they obtain, the easier it is for them to spread their message. By simply following an organisation, and occasionally retweeting or favouriting their posts, you contribute to boosting their popularity in the Twitter-verse, which will make them more visible to other users in the long term.

Here are a couple of organisations to follow on Twitter:

Scientists for EU ( @Scientists4EU ) : A group of UK-based scientists, who regularly campaign against the Brexit deal, and promote discussion about Brexit concerns, both regarding science, and other matters linked to Brexit.

Healthier IN the EU ( @HealthierIn ) : This organisation is health-sector specific, raising awareness surrounding potential NHS cuts as a result of the EU, and fighting to protect UK health workers once the UK has completed Brexit negotiations.

 

  1. Join a society.

Societies are a great way to meet like-minded people, and provide platforms for individuals to get together, and promote a collective idea. Why not discuss your concerns for science at regular society meetings, by joining one of these: Liberal Thinkers, Science Journalism, or Women in Science and Engineering.

 

  1. Look out for the latest petitions.

Change.org and Government Petitions have regular petitions online, which anyone is able to sign. Currently, activity regarding Brexit and science is low, so if you’ve got an idea, why not start your own petition?

 

Ultimately, it looks like the general forecast for the UK is still a steady cruise to exercising article 50, but that doesn’t mean that we have to settle with whatever deal the Government negotiates in Brussels: there is so much more work to be done, and so many ways to get involved, even it’s just small actions. To ensure that our Science and Technology continues to flourish, we need to speak out as a collective, and show that we care about the future of research and innovation.

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