On June 23, 2016, the United Kingdom (UK) held a referendum. Voters were asked: "Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?" A majority—52 per cent—voted to leave.
The media refers to the UK’s possible exit from the European Union (EU) as “Brexit” (British + exit). Brexit would mean big changes for the UK, including in the field of scientific research. Currently, the country is considered a world leader in research. And many scientists are unhappy with the possibility of the UK leaving the EU.
If the UK leaves the EU, what other options for research funding are available?
What is the European Union, and what would Brexit mean for British students and researchers?
The EU currently consists of 28 countries. Citizens of any EU country are free to live, work, or study in any other. Just like Canadians can attend university in any province without a student visa, citizens of the UK can easily study in any member country of the EU (for now). And British universities can easily recruit the best students and faculty from across the EU.
EU funding for UK research
It’s not all about the money. However, the EU does give British labs and universities a lot of it—the equivalent of over 2 billion Canadian dollars a year. With this money, the UK has been doing some of the world’s most advanced research on cancer. The UK also does advanced research in the fields computer systems, nanotechnology, and engineering.
And It’s not just citizens of the UK doing this research. A lot of scientists from other EU countries use these funds to do their research in Britain. If the UK leaves the EU, British scientists won't be able to use any of that money anymore. It also won’t be as easy for other EU scientists to live and do research in the UK.
However, in order to have access to EU money, member countries must also contribute money to the EU. Some people who support Brexit argue that the billion pounds a year that the UK receives is actually less than what the country contributes to EU research funding. Some believe that the UK would have more control over its research if it simply used its own money.
What are some of the advantages of international collaboration in scientific research?
The UK, the EU and collaborative research
Today, scientists often work in large teams. Collaborative research and multi-author, international publications are important for the credibility of a research institution. Perhaps more importantly, collaborative research brings multiple questions, multiple perspectives, and broad knowledge to a project.
Right now, researchers in the UK and other EU countries often collaborate on scientific research. They bring ideas and expertise from their different countries to a variety of important questions. These collaborations could become more difficult if Brexit takes place. For example, EU scientists might have to start applying for visas to live and do research in Britain. Maybe the UK will be able to negotiate agreements with individual EU countries. Or maybe EU scientists will have to apply for visas like researchers from non-EU countries, like Canada.
Why is it important to have policies about gender equality in scientific careers and research?
Women in Scientific Research
Finally, the EU has programs to encourage women to participate in scientific research. These programs help ensure men and women have equal opportunities in scientific careers. The UK will no longer have to follow these policies if it leaves the EU.
About Brexit and scientific research:
About European research programmes:
About scientific collaboration: