What does the prospect of Brexit mean for one of Britain’s major export industries – science and academia? And can British science afford to lose the European scientists that currently work here? The data suggests not.
The UK is a magnet for talent, attracting the highest number of university-educated migrants of any country in the EU, no fewer than 62% of expats from western Europe has a university degree compared to 24% of the British labour force. These migrants have contributed to more than £20bn since 2000 to British economy according to a recent study. Among them, talented EU nationals, mostly German and Italian, make up 20% of the UK academic community.
Scientists move to the UK because they want to improve their career prospects by working with outstanding research teams in a country that is world leading in science and innovation. Britain also offers a well-established, dynamic and flexible scientific career path. Due to the increase of foreign scientists in the last few years, Portuguese, Spanish and Italian expatriate scientists (among others) have begun forming support networks in the UK to promote science communication and international relationships.
The Society of Spanish Researchers in the UK (SRUK) has established more than 400 members since 2012. It helps foster international research collaborations to attract both European funding and scientific talent into the UK. In most of these expat cases, their countries of origin paid for their education and training and may never get that investment back. Instead, Britain will benefit from the most productive years of these individuals. In other words, they are low-cost, highly-talented researchers.
Scientists tend to follow stable funding in research, so the richer and more science-friendly a country becomes, the more researchers tend to flock to it. But British success could now be at risk.
There is a broad range of estimates trying to quantify what an exit from the EU would do to the size of the UK economy. But it is generally agreed that in the short-term, the British economy will shrink, making the UK a less attractive country for highly skilled migrants. Moreover, this will result in less European funding to British institutions and isolation from the dynamisms of the scientific system in the EU.
Since 2007 when the European Research Council (ERC) funding scheme began, the UK has secured 21% of the European money compared to its next competitor Germany with 14.5%. More than a half of the ERC Consolidator 2014 grantees – the most talented researchers – in the UK were European non-British. This will lead to a potential brain drain similar to what southern-Europe has been suffering from during these last years of financial crisis.
A highly productive research system, like the UK’s, derives huge benefit from its openness to freedom of movement for EEA citizens. In a Brexit scenario, moving to Britain would become considerably harder and the idea of applying for a visa, work permitor the imposition of an earnings quota (at least £35,000 to qualify for settlement in the UK from 2016 for non-EEA migrants) will be a major disincentive.
Currently, as an EU citizen, you only need to show your passport to be able to work. In order to maintain the current flow of highly qualified individuals, the tier 1 visa would need to open up dramatically. But the damage will already be done for British academia.
The main concern for senior researchers, including principle investigators , will be to secure funding to attract the best researchers. These funds will entirely depend on governmental investment in research and development, and whether European money becomes available. The feasibility of recruiting good scientists from abroad for research projects will be also a major concern for principal investigators. Junior researchers with non-open ended positions might have to face restrictions on fellowship applications and will be more likely to leave – as they are less settled – to more welcoming countries, like Europe or the US. Finally, PhD students will be less prone to come to the UK if there is as a shortage of studentships for non-British citizens.
It’s time for the UK science community to speak up for all its members, to make it clear that British science is world leading due to its international researcher base, and to explain clearly that a Brexit ushers in the mood that will chase away talent in droves. The UK shouldn’t sharpen the knife to kill the goose that lays the golden egg.
Nerea Irigoyen is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Cambridge and Eduardo Oliver is a postdoctoral researcher at Imperial College London – both are part of the board of directors of the Society of Spanish Researchers in the UKRead More
A father’s level of education is the strongest factor determining a child’s future success at school, creating a self-reinforcing cycle of poverty and lack of achievement passed down from parents to children in Britain, according to research.
The report from the Office for National Statistics claims that children are seven and a half times less likely to be successful at school if their father failed to achieve, compared with children with highly educated fathers.
A mother’s education level was important to a lesser degree, with a child approximately three times as likely to have a low educational outcome if their mother had a low level of education.
The ONS research found that low levels of education are the most significant reason for the persistence of poverty in the UK, with those with a low level of educational attainment being almost five times as likely to be in poverty as those with a high level of education.
Helen Barnard, policy and research manager at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said there was little evidence that the cycle of poverty and educational outcomes was caused by low aspirations among poor families.
“But there is evidence that children and parents from poorer backgrounds develop lower expectations as children grow older – they stop believing that their children will be able to achieve high ambitions, or do not know how to help them do so,” Barnard said.
Previous studies have observed the link between parent-child levels of education success, but the size of the father’s attainment level on a child’s education is more marked than most earlier research.
The data reinforces the ONS’s finding that British society has low levels of earnings mobility across generations, one of the findings of its report on intergenerational transmission of disadvantage in the UK and European Union.
Conor Ryan, director of research at the Sutton Trust, said the ONS work was in line with his organisation’s own findings on weak social mobility in the UK, with mobility declining for those born in 1970 compared with those born in the 1950s.
“This report shows just how important education is in breaking that cycle of poverty across generations and ensuring that poor educational achievement is not transmitted from parent to child,” Ryan said.
Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said it was not surprising that the ONS had found a relationship between parents’ income and the future earnings of their children.
“What’s interesting about this report is where the UK parts company with other EU countries. Critically, it shows that growing up in a workless household has a much more significant impact on a child’s future earnings in the UK than in almost any other state,” Garnham said.
The ONS data showed that those who lived in a workless household at age 14 were around one and a half times as likely to be in poverty compared with those where one adult was working, and that the effect was more marked than elsewhere in Europe.
A report by Sir Michael Marmot’s Institute of Health Equity published this week found that children from more deprived areas were more likely than those from affluent families to fall short of developmental and educational milestones including having started to read, write and do simple sumsRead More