17 MARCH 2017 • VOL 355 ISSUE 6330 1107 SCIENCE sciencemag.org
For months after the United Kingdom voted last June to leave the European Union, many U.K. scientists clung to hopes of a “soft Brexit,” which would not cut them off from EU funding and collaborators. But Prime Minister
Theresa May, who is expected to trigger the
2-year process of exiting the European Union
in coming days, has signaled the break will
be sharp. U.K. researchers are now facing up
to the prospect that they won’t be able to apply for EU funding or easily recruit postdocs
and colleagues from the rest of Europe.
“People are bracing themselves for a
bumpier and more abrupt landing,” says
James Wilsdon, a science policy expert
at the University of Sheffield in the
To lessen the blow to research, scien-
tists and bureaucrats are already brain-
storming about new funding structures
and international collaborations that
could make up for the lost EU money and
brainpower. They are also taking some
comfort in a major boost to government
R&D funding, detailed last week, aimed
at building up research areas that could
bolster domestic industries. Yet much
uncertainty hangs on what are expected
to be rancorous negotiations with the
European Union, covering issues such as
the right of foreign citizens to remain in
the United Kingdom and a possible exit bill
from Brussels. “We live in a kind of limbo,”
says Giorgio Gilestro, an Italian neuro-
scientist at Imperial College London (ICL).
The stakes are high for the United Kingdom, which is a scientific powerhouse and a
magnet for talent. Between 2007 and 2013,
U.K. researchers brought home more than
€7 billion in EU research funding, second
only to Germany. Cash from Brussels made
up nearly 10% of research funding at U.K.
universities in 2013, an increase of 68% since
2009. The United Kingdom’s prominence as
an international hub was made clear again
this week when a new analysis of the mobility
of high-skill professionals, published in the
Journal of the Royal Society Interface, found
that the country dominates Europe in the im-
migration of talent.
May has said repeatedly that maintaining the United Kingdom’s scientific prowess
is a priority, but a more immediate worry to
the government is industrial competitiveness, as a “hard” Brexit is likely to mean a
departure from the EU common market. To
kick-start or boost industries, particularly in
biomedicine and technology, the government
launched a new Industrial Strategy Challenge
Last week, the first details on spending were revealed. This year’s tranche
consists of £270 million for research
on robotics, electric vehicle batteries,
and drug manufacturing technology.
Another £300 million will be spent on
fellowships for early- and midcareer
scientists, grants to attract foreign scientists, and support for an additional
1000 Ph.D. students in fields relevant
to the industrial strategy.
By Erik Stokstad, in Cambridge, U.K.
U.K. scientists gird for future break with EU
Government largesse may ease Brexit—at least for applied science
The future of the Joint European Torus, the world-leading fusion facility near Oxford, U. K., remains uncertain beyond its current contract, which ends in 2018.
European Union 53.5%
United States 30.2%
Share of U.K. international collaborations*
buy into the EU
Partnerships at risk
After Brexit, U.K. researchers will likely not have access to EU
funds that have promoted collaborations.