People in Science and Health

UK Scientists Brace For Sharp Break With European Union

UK Scientists Brace For Sharp Break With European Union
PHOTOGRAPH: Oxford University | Photo shows a scientist.

The prospect of a “hard” Brexit has unnerved British scientists. After Prime Minister Theresa May signalled that the break from EU will be sharp, the scientific community has expressed apprehension of being abruptly cut off from European Union funding and collaborators.

To cushion the blow to research, scientists have started brainstorming about new funding structures and collaborated with international organizations that could make up for the lost EU funding and brainpower. They have also hinged hopes on a major boost to government research and development funding.

At the same time, there is the realization that application for EU funding may take a while. It also may not be that easy to recruit students and colleagues from the rest of Europe. “People are bracing themselves for a bumpier and more abrupt landing,” stated James Wilsdon, a science policy expert at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom.

The Impact of Hard Brexit on Science

Without access to the union’s open markets, Britain was foreseen to lose trade and investment, and with it, scientific research’s funding and talents from the European Union. While the influx of migrant workers has created anxiety over British culture and identity, losing that labor force could lead to lower productivity and slower economic growth

The Prime Minister has stated that it will be “a defining moment” for the United Kingdom as it begins to forge a new relationship with Europe & assume a new role in the world. Her repeated assurances that the country will continue to prioritize scientific prowess has not assuaged the immediate worries of members of the scientific community over a “hard” Brexit.

European Economics correspondent Peter Goodman made light of the situation, and tweeted, “personally, i am partial to scrambled brexit, alluding to the labels and spins on the varying levels of impact Brexit will have. The bottom line is that there are economic and institutional realities that need to be focused on.

Scientists Express Myriad Sentiments

Since June 2016,  U.K. scientists have been venting their frustrations over Britain’s vote to exit the European Union. Sentiments ranging from sadness to shock and anger have been echoed by colleagues from around the world. As a genetics researcher said, Brexit translated to a “sad day for collaborative research in Europe” and added that “efforts to prepare for and respond to infectious diseases just got more difficult.”

A structural biologist lamented that “the next 5 to 10 years are all about damage limitation,” adding that things have gotten “deeply depressing.”  As for those who are focusing on possible solutions rather than dwelling on the gloomy side of things,  one recourse considered in order to compensate for the expected loss of talent from the European Union — is to ease entry for scientists from the United States, China, and other countries.

For its part, the U.K. government has launched a new Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund in November. It aims to boost industries, particularly in biomedicine and technology.


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