Overseas skills important for science and research after Brexit, warn MPs

PUBLISHED: 09:03 12 April 2017 | UPDATED: 09:03 12 April 2017

The John Innes Centre.  Picture: ANTONY KELLY

The John Innes Centre. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2016

Scientists and experts from overseas must be allowed to continue to come to the UK after Brexit, MPs have said.

Meanwhile, the government should fully commit to making up any shortfall in research funding as a result of the break from Brussels, according to the Commons Science and Technology Committee.

The committee said the government’s industrial strategy should have gone further in acknowledging the way the process of leaving the European Union would shape the country’s economic future.

The cross-party group welcomed the £2bn a year promised by Theresa May for research and development, but said the extra cash should be a “down payment” on the way to public and private funding reaching 3% of GDP.

It comes after it was announced £78m of funding will go to Norwich’s John Innes Centre, strengthening the region’s position at the forefront of research.

Committee chairman Stephen Metcalfe said: “Brexit will present opportunities and risks for our economy and for the science and innovation that supports it.

“A regulatory regime that is well-crafted and tuned to our post-Brexit international research and trading relationships - both with Europe and globally - will be essential.

“The government has an opportunity to do more to strengthen the links between the industrial strategy and Brexit as the exit negotiations now get under way.

“That will be vitally important for keeping the government’s industrial strategy relevant and hooked-up to the opportunities presented by the evolving Brexit negotiations.”

The report welcomed measures - such as the new T-Level - to boost science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills.

But it added: “While increasing the STEM skills of our children and students will help meet the needs of the workplace in future, it is also important to make use of existing STEM skills wherever they can be found, including from overseas.”

The MPs also called for ministers to give a “firm commitment to EU researchers working and studying in the UK that they will continue to have a secure position here post-Brexit”.

As part of the industrial strategy, the Prime Minister announced increases in government investment worth £2bn per year by 2020 for research and development (R&D).

Tory MP Mr Metcalfe said: “The government has significantly increased science funding, which will put us in a better position post-Brexit to attract skilled researchers and collaborative science projects.

“I want the government to see that as an initial investment towards meeting a target - for the UK to be spending 3% of GDP on R&D - that our committee has repeatedly pushed for.

“While it is too soon to know whether Brexit will end up bringing less or more inward science investment to the UK in the long-term, the government should be ready to make good any net shortfall in the short-term with further funding for science.”

A government spokesman said: “Science, research and innovation are at the heart of our modern industrial strategy, which is why we’re providing more than £4.7bn of funding over the next five years, the largest increase in research spending since 1979.

“We have also committed to underwrite Horizon 2020 EU research grants bid for prior to the UK’s departure from the EU, providing certainty to UK participants to continue their valuable contribution to global science.

“The strategy also makes clear we must remain committed to ensuring we have a strong skills system in place that can drive productivity and improve social mobility.

“The government has invested over £500m annually in technical education for 16 to 19-year-olds to help address the shortage in STEM and other skilled occupations.”

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