Blog: It's all about the people

24 March 2017

Joanna Burton, Russell Group's Policy Researcher writes about the Lords debate on EU membership and UK science.


“It’s the people who are crucial” said Lord Mair in yesterday’s House of Lords debate on the EU membership and UK Science.

The Lord, who is also the Sir Kirby Laing Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Cambridge, went on to say: “Without people there will be no research and, of course, without funding there will be no people.”

He was just one of a number of Lords - many of whom also work at our universities - who spoke passionately at the debate about the importance of science for the future of the UK’s economy and what is needed to make it successful.

With the Government due to trigger Article 50 next week yesterday’s debate could not have been more timely. And it was an important reminder, as if one was needed, that the research conducted in our universities matters to all of us whether that is developing new medicines or tackling climate change.

As Baroness Morgan, a lay member of the Council at King’s College London argued, “support for science - in its broadest definition - has become even more important since June 23 and will be vital to the success of a post-Brexit economy.”  And universities will have a key role in supporting the UK post-Brexit, equipping the next generation with vital skills.

Here at the Russell Group our key priorities are clear.

First and foremost, we are clear that the talented people from around the world underpin the UK’s success as a world-leader in research, innovation and education. The Russell Group is seeking urgent reassurances for the EU staff and students who currently work and study at our universities, as well as longer term reassurances that we can continue to recruit talented staff and students wherever they are from. We fully support Lord Mair’s statement that “there needs to be reconfigured immigration system which promotes academic and research mobility.”

Secondly, we are urging the Government to negotiate the UK’s continued access to Horizon 2020 and future EU research and innovation programmes based on excellence. These programmes provide a trusted platform for multilateral collaboration, funding through large competitive grants and opportunities for researcher mobility, all of which add up to a world leading research base and ground breaking discoveries.

And finally we want the Government to secure the UK’s continued participation in Erasmus+ which we know helps graduate employability and social mobility as well as making our universities the international institutions they are.

Speakers at the Lords debate described the two issues of research collaboration and funding programmes and the ability to recruit and retain international staff as being closely linked and interdependent. Or as Baroness Morgan eloquently put it: “it’s a circle of excellence”. The positive cycle of international funding following brilliant people, which in turn attracts more funding and talent, is central to our institutions. The Lords debate further highlighted the central place that science and research must take.

If the Government can support this positive eco-system by providing the reassurances we urgently seek and prioritising a positive outcome for science and research, universities can be at the heart of the Government’s industrial strategy and make a significant contribution this country’s future economic success. 

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