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Royal Society: Impact on UK research must be considered in the EU debate

06 June 2016

A referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union (EU) will take place on 23 June 2016.  The Royal Society has gathered evidence about the influence of the UK’s relationship with the EU on research.  We have looked at three areas; funding UK research, collaboration and mobility, and regulation and policy. We summarise our conclusions below.

Funding UK research

It is estimated that the UK received €8.8 billion from the most recently completed EU research programme (2007-2013), having contributed an estimated €5.4 billion.  Despite a reduction in UK government research funding to universities between 2009/10 and 2013/14, university research income increased over that period.  This was largely due to increases in funding from the EU.  Horizon 2020 is by far the EU largest research funding programme and the majority of this funding requires international collaboration.

Collaboration and mobility

Over half of the UK’s research output in 2015 was the result of international collaboration and 60% of that included EU partners.  While UK researchers most frequently collaborate with the US, the rate of collaboration with EU partners is increasing at a faster rate.  Freedom of movement is often integral to collaboration, and this is easier within the EU.  The strength of the UK’s science base has been helped by being able to attract the best international talent to the UK and currently 16% of academic staff in our universities are from other EU countries with 12% from non-EU countries. 

Regulation and policy

International collaboration is aided by consistent policy and regulation and the UK currently plays a strong role in helping shape effective EU policy, such as the directive governing the use of animals in research. In many cases such as this, the EU has set regulation that supports effective collaboration.  However, there have also been examples where EU regulation, along with other factors, has been detrimental to the progress of good science such as in relation to GM crops.

Conclusion

If the UK chooses to leave the EU on 23 June it will affect funding and the mobility of scientists and their collaborations.  It would also impact our ability to influence the policy and regulations that can affect an international undertaking like science.  It is important that these matters are fully considered by the electorate both in terms of whether the UK should stay in the EU or how the changes would be managed if we chose to leave.

Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society