MPs call for early deal on UK-Europe sci­ence links post-Brexit

THE (Times Higher Education) - - NEWS -

MPs have called on the UK gov­ern­ment to strike a deal with the Euro­pean Union on post-Brexit re­search col­lab­o­ra­tion by Oc­to­ber, warn­ing that oth­er­wise “it can­not be taken for granted that the UK will re­tain its sta­tus as a sci­ence su­per­power”.

A re­port from the Com­mons Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy Com­mit­tee says that reach­ing an agree­ment on sci­ence and in­no­va­tion “should now be as im­por­tant to the gov­ern­ment as ad­dress­ing the ques­tion of se­cu­rity”, given the sec­tor’s im­por­tance to the econ­omy.

“It must be stripped out from the wider trade ne­go­ti­a­tions for fo­cused at­ten­tion, rather than be­come a knock-on con­se­quence of other ne­go­ti­a­tions or be traded against other as­pects of a post-Brexit deal,” the com­mit­tee says.

The MPs add that it is “not suf­fi­cient” for the gov­ern­ment to wait un­til the Mi­gra­tion Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee re­ports in Septem­ber be­fore ad­dress­ing the fu­ture im­mi­gra­tion ar­range­ments for Euro­pean schol­ars hop­ing to work in the UK af­ter Brexit.

The mi­gra­tion com­mit­tee should be asked to “bring for­ward its con­clu­sions in re­la­tion to the im­mi­gra­tion ar­range­ments needed to sup­port sci­ence and in­no­va­tion, and build these into a sci­ence and in­no­va­tion agree­ment with the EU by Oc­to­ber 2018, or ear­lier if pos­si­ble”, the re­port says.

The re­port, pub­lished on 21 March, ex­presses con­cern that the gov­ern­ment’s “de­fault po­si­tion does not ap­pear to be that the UK will par­tic­i­pate” in Frame­work Pro­gramme 9, the suc­ces­sor pro­gramme to the Hori­zon 2020 fund­ing scheme.

At a Brexit sum­mit held by the com­mit­tee on 22 Fe­bru­ary, uni­ver­si­ties min­is­ter Sam Gy­imah said that there was “no am­bi­gu­ity” about the UK’s de­sire to par­tic­i­pate in FP9, but at a sub­se­quent ap­pear­ance be­fore MPs on 6 March, he de­clined to com­mit to seek­ing as­so­ciate mem­ber­ship to the pro­gramme.

The re­port says that the gov­ern­ment should “state clearly that it in­tends to par­tic­i­pate un­less there is a ma­te­rial un­favourable dif­fer­ence be­tween the new pro- gramme and its pre­de­ces­sor, and that the UK is ready to pay a fair ‘en­try fee’ to se­cure this. If the price is too high, or the fo­cus on ex­cel­lence is di­luted, a change in ap­proach might be war­ranted, but the gov­ern­ment’s ex­plic­itly stated as­sump­tion must be to par­tic­i­pate fully.”

The re­port also calls on the gov­ern­ment to clar­ify the fund­ing sta­tus of EU stu­dents hop­ing to start univer­sity cour­ses in Eng­land in 2019 as soon as pos­si­ble.

Nor­man Lamb, the com­mit­tee’s chair, said that the UK “can’t take it for granted that we will re­tain [our] world-lead­ing po­si­tion” in sci­ence and in­no­va­tion.

“Co­op­er­a­tion on sci­ence and in­no­va­tion is a ‘win-win’ for the UK and the EU,” he said. “An early deal would pro­vide as­sur­ances to re­searchers, stu­dents and aca­demics, and could set a pos­i­tive tone for fu­ture ne­go­ti­a­tions.

“It is cru­cial that the gov­ern­ment acts swiftly.

If it fails to do so, both sides could suf­fer con­sid­er­ably as a re­sult.”

Chris Haver­gal

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