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New Brexit report; calls from science and engineering sector

28 Mar 2018

To mark the anniversary of the triggering of article 50 on 29th March 2017, CaSE has today published a new Brexit report with policy asks from the science and engineering sector on people, funding and regulation. 

Commenting on the report, CaSE Executive Director Dr Sarah Main said:

“Science is a success story in our relationship with the EU. But Brexit uncertainty is beginning to bite.

In our comprehensive survey of the sector, research organisations report falls in application rates from EU nationals and candidates turning down prestigious research positions citing Brexit uncertainty as a key factor.

Science is a significant and successful feature of the UK-EU relationship. It is critical that the Government acts swiftly to secure the good will on both sides of the channel for an ambitious agreement on research and innovation. We want to see UK participation in EU research programmes, frictionless movement of science and engineering professionals, and harmonisation of regulation with the ability to influence.

In addition, the Government can take decisive action to unleash UK science and engineering potential. To do this, Government should promote the UK as a global research and innovation hub with an international engagement strategy and a visa regime to match; transform recruitment and retention of science teachers; set a course to increase UK public investment in R&D to 0.7% of GDP by 2022; and prepare to lead the world in innovative, ethical regulation of rapidly evolving areas of science. 

These actions will send a signal that the UK is intent on remaining a global leader and partner of choice in science and innovation.”

These asks are based on evidence CaSE has gathered of impacts of Brexit on research organisations over the last year (on recruitment, relocation, income etc), including data and quotes. CaSE’s membership organisations, which have provided this data, represent 380,000 people employed in the U.K. and global R&D investment of £43 billion a year. 

The briefing makes a series of recommendations to Government under two headings:

1. Secure an ambitious agreement on research and innovation with the EU

  • Reciprocal frictionless movement for science and engineering professionals
  • Secure full UK participation in Framework Programme 9
  • Prioritise stability and harmonisation of regulation in established areas
  • Seek influence on regulation that impacts on UK science and engineering 

2. Coordinate Government efforts to unleash UK science and engineering potential  

  • Take radical action to deliver diversity in STEM
  • Transform recruitment and retention of teachers
  • Equip providers to deliver high-quality STEM education
  • Abolish the Tier 2 (General) cap
  • Permit research activity overseas in Indefinite Leave to Remain rules
  • Promote the UK as a place to learn, earn and contribute
  • Create an immigration system that supports the retention, access and movement of those who lead, undertake and support research and innovation 
  • Assess and mitigate impact of likely EU funding changes
  • Increase public investment in R&D to 0.7% of GDP by 2022
  • Create a cross-government international research and innovation strategy 
  • Lead the world in regulation of emerging areas of science and innovation 
  • Access and use scientific and technical expertise and advice

This Brexit briefing is the third and final policy review to be published by CaSE this spring, each with recommendations for government. The first policy briefing was on diversity and inclusion in STEM, and the second on immigration.


  1. A fortnight ago CaSE published a letter to Number 10 Downing Street calling on the Prime Minister to exempt roles on the Government’s ​Shortage Occupation List and PhD level roles from the Tier 2 visa cap. The letter was supported by over 45 organisations from across business, universities, ​professional institutes, and research charities.
  2. CaSE has produced an evidence base on Brexit, including details of all the reports cited in the briefing.
  3. CaSE has also compiled a facts and figures digest on the impact Brexit is already having on people and funding:

People: Impact so far

  • 70% of respondents said they are thinking of leaving the UK because of Brexit in a Prospect member survey of 650 EU nationals working in the UK. 
  • 47% of British Heart Foundation funded researchers are ‘more likely’ to take up a post outside the UK than before the vote to leave the EU, rising to 80% for non-UK EU nationals .
  • Organisations have started to see a decline in the flow of talent from the EU to the UK, noting that the best candidates are harder to attract.
    • In 2017, the proportion of EEA researchers applying to Wellcome’s early career research schemes fell by 14%. 
    • UCL had no applications from the EU in 2017 for their Life and Medical Sciences research excellence fellowships that offer three years’ salary and £50,000 of research funds. In previous years, EU nationals made up approximately a third of applicants.
    • Major science funders, including Wellcome Trust, British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK, report instances of candidates for prestigious research fellowships and funding turning down the opportunity citing uncertainty due to Brexit as a key factor.

Funding: Impact so far

  • Until 2016 the UK had the highest number of Horizon2020 project leads and the highest value associated with those projects. The UK now has dropped to second behind Germany on the value of Horizon 2020 projects it leads, having lead until 2016.
  • Since September 2016, UK businesses’ share in Horizon 2020 funding has fallen from 12.4% of total business investment to 11.1% in September 2017, meaning UK business dropped from the second highest recipients, behind Germany, to the fifth highest . 

Background information


  • 86% of the British public want to increase or maintain levels of immigration of scientists and engineers. Only 18% of Leave-voters want migration of scientists and engineers to decrease . 
  • 28% of academic staff in UK universities are non-UK nationals (16% EU and 12% non-EU)  
  • International movement is a feature of academic researchers’ careers – 72% of UK-based scientists spent time at non-UK institutions between 1996 and 2015 .
  • In London, 20% of workers in Tech are EEA nationals and 30% of digital technology start-up founders were born overseas 


  • The UK Government has committed to a long-term target of combined public and private investment in R&D reaching 3% of GDP, with an initial target of 2.4% by 2027 
  • GERD 2016: public and private R&D spend is 1.67% of GDP on R&D (£33.1bn), OECD average is 2.35% (UK public expenditure is 0.46% of GDP compared to EU15 average of 0.66%)
  • Horizon 2020 is the current EU framework programme (FP) for research and innovation (2014-2020). Government has confirmed continued UK participation until its closure. FPs enable organisations across Europe and wider (inc. businesses and universities) to apply for funding and work together under agreed terms. FP7 ran from 2007-13 and FP9 (2021-27) being developed.
  • Nearly a fifth of all EU money received by the UK is for R&D. 
  • The UK is a net contributor to the EU, but it is a net receiver of EU funding for research. In FP7, the UK was a net beneficiary of EU research funding, paying in €5.4bn and receiving €8.8bn between 2007-2013 – a net gain of €3.4bn over the period . Only £3.5bn has been allocated to non-member states in the last decade .
  • Some areas of the UK are more dependent than others on EU funding i.e. the South West, North West, Scotland and Wales .
  • UK-based researchers most frequently collaborate with scientists from the US, with EU countries making up the rest of the top five . 
  • 60% of the UK’s internationally co-authored papers are with EU partners. 

Read CaSE's Brexit report

With policy asks on people, funding and regulation

Read more