The British research landscape after Brexit

The British research landscape after Brexit

“I was totally exhausted – we were all really shaken up.” Behavioral geneticist Mike Galsworthy, co-founder ofScientists from the European UnionIn the referendum result. In contrast to the deeply divided British population – about 52 percent voted to “leave” and about 48 percent to “stay” – it is clear that the 2016 scientific community is against Brexit: according to polls, 90 percent of Researchers in Great Britain to stay in the European Union.

Four and a half years of uncertainty have left their mark

For very good reasons – Brexit threatened to lose influence in international research projects, to lose cooperation partners, and last but not least, to lose a lot of money from EU research funding programs such as Horizon 2020. to replace European Union funding removed from the national budget. . But as long as negotiations continue between England and the European Union over Brexit modalities, the British flag lacks clear perspectives and security planning. Mike Galsworthy:

“The sword of Damocles was always hanging over our heads. Yes, we were still part of Horizon 2020, we were still paying our dues to the European Union, and we still had the same rights. But there was constant uncertainty that all of that would disappear the thin air can.”

Jubilation from Boris Johnson, scholars are comfortable with “the deal” on December 24, 2020 (imago / Xinhua / Pippa Fowles)

Relief after the “agreement” with the European Union

At the last moment, on December 24, 2020, the European Union and the British government under Boris Johnson agreed to a comprehensive cooperation and trade agreement. From the point of view of science, the “deal” provides comfort in many respects: Great Britain remains in a new position as an “associated member” of the European Union’s research framework program Horizon.

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Cooperation in nuclear research, as well as participation in the European Copernicus satellite program, will be maintained. Import duties should not be imposed on scientific equipment and consumables, and quality standards and data protection regulations should be mutually recognized.

A mural painted by Banksy in the coastal city of Dover, UK, featuring the massive European Union flag and a carving worker star from the flag.  (Glenn Kirk / AFP) (Glenn Kirk / AFP)Brexit and its implications
After 47 years in membership and four years after the referendum, Great Britain left the European Union on January 31. But much remains to be clarified: There is a transition period until the end of the year in which the two parties would like to renegotiate their relationship.

Greater hurdles for students and visiting researchers

Despite the “deal”, Brexit will have a number of potentially negative impacts on the British search scene: Horizon funding will be halted, and cooperation with the European Galileo satellite navigation system will be terminated.

Great Britain is announcing its participation in the Erasmus + student exchange program and introducing new immigration and residency regulations – meaning higher student fees than the European Union, legal obstacles and visa requirements for visiting scholars.

The flag in Great Britain remains internationally oriented

Also Sir Richard Catlow, The foreign representative and vice-president of the British Academy of Sciences “Royal Society”, believes that the agreements concluded in the “deal” are largely positive; The decision to remain in the EU Research Framework Program removed doubts.

“The Brexit and Brexit referendum can of course create the impression that the UK is no longer interested in international networks and that foreign scholars are now less welcome here. Nor is it true either.”

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The visa fee still needs to be fixed

Catlow refers to the newly introduced “Global Talent Visa,” which enables senior researchers and their families to work in financially attractive conditions – however, these exemptions do not apply to “rank and file,” and here the visa fee is about six times high compared to In other scientific countries.

“We, as the Royal Society, have criticized the fact that the cost of visa applications is too high and we urgently advise the government to lower the fees. Obtaining a work visa here is much more expensive than in most other countries that we resort to urgently. It needs to be fixed.”

“Business as usual” again soon

A computer simulation expert in chemistry and materials science says his scientific work “in fact has had no effect” on the hangover conditions for Brexit. However, it is true that the number of British researchers who have applied for funding from the European Union has decreased dramatically in recent years.

“But we hope that now that the uncertainty is over, the number of project applications and collaborations involving UK researchers will soon return to the same level it was before the referendum.” Richard Catlow is optimistic – very soon “business as usual” can be applied again to the relationship between the British and the international scientific scene.

Magdalen College, St. John's Quad Place - one of 39 colleges, all independent and together making up the University of Oxford.  (Imago / Jochen Tak)Studying at Oxford is the seal of approval – how attractive are British universities after Brexit? (Imago / Jochen Tak)

“Britain’s exit from the European Union has definitely not had a positive effect.”

Also a mathematician Professor Ulric Tillman From the University of Oxford, she sees Great Britain as a promising and worthwhile location for scholars, especially in light of the budget increases promised by the British government. When looking for new professors, postdoctoral researchers or students, exit from the European Union is already noticeable:

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“I would say that Brexit – just like the Brexit threat, definitely did not have a positive effect on applicants from our European neighbors. Last year one really got the impression that there were actually quite a few applicants from Europe. Continental are missing. “

        (Deutschlandradio / imago / Jürgen Schwartz) (Deutschlandradio / imago / Jürgen Schwartz)

The tuition fees can be daunting

The Covid pandemic may have played a role, too, says Ulrike Tillman. As for exiting Erasmus – it will not have any impact on searches, but it may have an effect on student body composition.

“What you can actually feel is that the applicant might think twice about whether they would like to study in England because of the non-trivial tuition fee, which of course has been increased again.” Universities and colleges are trying to establish scholarships to mitigate the effects of the new regulations.

How attractive are the remaining British universities?

Uta Steiger, president of the European Institute at University College London, also charts a fundamentally optimistic balance sheet – there were no bottlenecks in research laboratories, and most of the consequences of Brexit may only become noticeable in the long term:

“The concern now is not that everyone will suddenly disappear from the island or that no one will come. But the conditions are simply not as easy as they used to be, and therefore it will become clear whether the attractiveness of British universities outweighs that.”

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