11 October 2017
Policy Officer, James Tooze, reflects on our member event discussing all matters Brexit, including a conversation with UKRI CEO Sir Mark Walport
“Being heard in Brexit” was held on Thursday 28th September and was kindly hosted Digital Science. The event was attended by delegates from 50 CaSE member organisations from across academia, charity and industry, and was an opportunity for cross-sector discussion on concerns and priorities for science and engineering in both a transition period and the future post-Brexit. We were delighted to have Sir Mark Walport, Chief Executive Designate of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), talk about his vision for the role of UKRI in securing a positive outcome for UK science in the coming years, while also providing an opportunity for the community to raise their concerns in a Q&A session.
Executive Director Sarah Main opened the day, thanking CaSE members of their continued support, outlined our vision for science and engineering, and setting out the work that CaSE have been carrying out since the referendum last year. Graeme Reid, chair of CaSE’s Board of Directors, then reflected on the events of recent months and that while so far science and engineering have kept their place in the headline Brexit discussions so far, the community must work hard to ensure that science retains a seat at the table in negotiations and doesn't become narrowly defined around issues of funding.
The group then broke out into smaller groups to discuss the potential transition period following the UK leaving the EU. Discussion topics ranged from uncertainty over citizens’ rights, the need for continuity and the level of influence the UK could have in, for instance, development of regulation that affects the UK. But the room was in agreement that a transition period could be used to smooth over the edges of Brexit, and should not be used to elongate the uncertainty surrounding the negotiation process.
As the debate turned to issues that will undoubtedly affect science and engineering post-Brexit, the clear-cut message from the room was that science is all about people. The issues around a future immigration system that works for the complexities of science and engineering, the uncertainty over the rights of EU nationals residing in the UK and the messaging and rhetoric surrounding migrants over the last 18 months all formed a major part of the discussions.
Representing a broad spectrum of stakeholders within science and engineering, the meeting allowed several resounding priorities to be heard that have been echoed by the community as a whole. The access to EU funding and grants were a major concern for the group, as was the future of collaborations between UK and EU institutions. Members again spoke of the need for broad harmonisation and alignment of regulation with the EU, for trade as well as for research and collaboration. This is an area where the UK has had significant influence historically and there was the view that both the UK and the EU would benefit from continued close working in this area. There was also some agreement on the role of UKRI as a facilitator in supporting new research opportunities for the UK, which lead nicely into the conversation with Sir Mark.
First, Sir Mark spoke about the role of UKRI in an ever-changing environment, acting as a catalyst for research without interfering or creating unnecessary bureaucracy around funding opportunities. Continued conversations and consultations with the community will be one of the most important tools in ensuring that UKRI understands the scientific landscape, Sir Mark continued. He shared the aims of UKRI to continue to push the frontiers of human knowledge, deliver economic benefits to the UK and create social impacts to make the UK healthier and stronger.
A Q&A session with Sir Mark followed, with many of those from across the forum given the opportunity to raise any concerns or seek further clarity on UKRI and its role in the years ahead. Questions ranged from seeking more detail on how UKRI will support research in areas that don't fit neatly in existing Council remits, to UKRI's role linking up research interests across government as well as internationally using its soft power. Graeme Reid wrapped up proceedings, saying that science and engineering are at the heart of the UK securing a new place in the world, and we have some work to do to get there.
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