So you’re probably sick to death already of hearing about the European Union referendum, because I know I am. I don’t think I can deal with hearing the term “Brexit” for another three months! However, this decision is going to have some big impacts, especially for science.
Whilst some scientists think that leaving the EU will not cause any damage to UK science output, there are many others that disagree with this, recently including Prof Stephen Hawking (1). Here’s the reasons that he and other scientists have given for staying in the EU.
Grants and money are necessary to fund science and research. It’s true, we put a lot of money into the EU but in general we don’t get much out (See the image below). Saying that, out of the 78billion euros given to the EU between 2007-2013, 5.4bn of that went to the Research and Development (R&D), but we got 8.8bn euros back to fund UK research projects (2). Over this time as well, EU R&D funding more than doubled, which is so much better than the UK research council which only increased spending by 7%. With the lack of UK funding, money from the EU is therefore essential for British scientific research (3).
If we left the EU, the UK would have all the money we would normally give to the EU left over for spending however we like. The problem for scientists is that there is no guarantee that the same proportion of money that research gets at the moment will go towards it in the future. Research is essential for the development of technologies and ideas that improve countries, and without the assurance of funding for this research, the idea of leaving the EU is a massive gamble for scientists and the country.
If Britain leaves the EU, travel to our neighbouring countries will become harder. That will make it more difficult for scientists (and people in general) to go visit other countries and contribute to other projects and learn new skills. This also applies for scientists trying to come to the UK. For the Erasmus program that helps students exchange with others within the EU, leaving the EU spells trouble for the students that want to learn in a different European country (3).
This is something you may not have considered but a lot of our wildlife and environments are protected by EU laws. By being apart of these policies, we have improved air and water quality and protected many species that can cross between European countries (4). If we were to leave the EU, it is uncertain what parts of the policies would still apply to us and to reinstate ourselves within them could take a really long time. Also we would not be able to influence policies that would help other countries’ environments and wildlife. Without these policies, it could have a huge negative affect on the quality of our environment and many species would lose protection.
In, out, in, out….
There are plenty of other topics to discuss with regards to staying or going, but for scientists, it seems that if we leave there is a great danger of losing more than we could possibly gain. Leaving would put the careers of future scientists at risk and that’s just not fair to deny them the same opportunities that their predecessors had. Whether that be the funding for research or travelling to learn new skills, future generations from all nations will suffer as a result. And lets not forget that everyone, not just scientists, is to lose out if the environment lost its protection.
For me, leaving is not going to work out, there are too many unknowns and we are not just putting ourselves at risk but our future generations as well. So with this in mind, I’m not sure if this is really a term in use yet and I’m cringing as I write it anyway but, I’m Brin!! (Curls into a ball of cringyness!)
Hawking – Brexit ‘disaster’ for science http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-35772714
- Research and Development Gross Expenditure http://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/governmentpublicsectorandtaxes/researchanddevelopmentexpenditure/bulletins/ukgrossdomesticexpenditureonresearchanddevelopment/2015-03-20
- Guardian article “EU science funding: ‘the UK cannot afford to lose out on this pot of money'” http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2015/may/13/eu-science-funding-the-uk-cannot-afford-to-lose-out-on-this-pot-of-money
- The role of European Policy in UK environmental quality http://www.green-alliance.org.uk/EU_letter_to_Liz_Truss_MP.php