AIRTO welcomes the government’s paper on future science and innovation collaboration with the EU

AIRTO, the Association for Innovation, Research and Technology Organisations, welcomes the government’s paper on future science and innovation collaboration with the EU: Collaboration on science and innovation: a future partnership paper.

However, we are calling on the government to go further in its negotiating plan, in order to maximise the UK’s capacity to:

  • partner in EU programmes

  • access the brightest and best people and skills

  • access funding and facilities

  • co-operate in, and shape regulation

Science, research and innovation are intrinsically coupled to the prosperity of the economy, so it is important that economic leverage of scientific and technological advances, which are the core goals of AIRTO and its members support to industry, remain well-resourced. Continuing access to established partners and sources of finance for research and innovation are essential. As the representative body for the UK’s Innovation, Research & Technology (IRT) sector, AIRTO’s priority is to see any negative impact of Brexit on UK science, innovation and economic growth minimised. IRT sector organisations already do twice as much business with the rest of the world as with EU clients. Nevertheless, any diminution of links to EU collaboration networks and funding for science and research will hamper their capacity to advance innovation in the UK and for UK based clients and partners. While ready to expand even further their links with global partners, IRT organisations need continuity of access to current levels of public investment in research and innovation programmes and procurement contracts to maintain their leading edge in world markets.

AIRTO has been joining the rest of the science and innovation community in calling for policy makers to recognise the criticality of sustained investment in research and innovation, particularly in the underpinning skills, infrastructure, science and engineering disciplines. Pursuing strong international collaborations to complement our domestic industrial strategy is essential to driving forward the UK’s objectives for science and innovation. We are, therefore, pleased to see that the government has understood the need for a ‘new, deep and special partnership’ with the European Union to promote our shared interests and values with respect to scientific endeavour and innovation. We welcome the core objective to “seek agreement to continue to collaborate with European partners on major science, research, and technology initiatives”.

The starting position for negotiation of an ambitious agreement on science and innovation will be enhanced by the strong regulatory alignment, trust and a long history of collaboration. But huge challenges lie ahead and these must be tackled head-on if the UK government is to secure a strong deal for UK science and innovation. These include:

The UK’s capacity to partner. We have evidence from our members of fewer successful wins via programmes like Horizon 2020, fewer invitations to join consortia and discrimination directed towards UK organisations involved in EU collaborative R&D and procurement programmes. Unless this discrimination is tackled, the UK’s capacity to partner with research institutions and businesses will be negatively impacted by Brexit. The government must reach out to EU partners to demonstrate the value we add, to ensure that the UK continues to benefit from collaboration, especially in large consortia in strategically important areas such as space, life sciences, and energy research.

Access to skills and people. Innovation is linked to social diversity, and previous UK policies of openness have enabled a socially integrated population to contribute to the UK’s world-wide reputation for innovation. AIRTO considers that diverse immigration acts as a driver of innovation. The cessation of the free movement of people will be detrimental to IRT sector organisations wishing to attract EU talent. AIRTO applauds the government’s intention to continue welcoming the ‘brightest and best’, and so to remain a hub for international talent. Barriers to migration of this talent between the UK and the EU must not be erected after Brexit. Moves such as continuing the system for the mutual recognition of professional qualifications, and the formation funds to attract skilled researchers to the UK via fellowships are welcome, but they will not facilitate the level of mobility of researchers engaged in cross-border collaboration that we have benefited from for decades. The government must prioritise the negotiation of continued mobility of people coming to the UK to study and to work in UK science and industry. All those EU nationals currently working or studying here need reassurance about their continued ability to do so. In addition, British nationals need to be able to move unimpeded across EU borders across the European Research Area (ERA) for the purposes of study, research and innovation endeavours.

Access to funding and facilities. The UK receives >£1bn per year in EU funding for UK science and innovation – more than we contribute. Reduced access to funding and facilities will threaten jobs in the IRT sector unless new arrangements are successfully negotiated to maintain full access for the UK to Europe’s Framework Programmes. AIRTO welcomes the intention of the UK government to secure continued involvement in these programmes. However, it must be understood that using the model of involvement of ‘associated countries’, which currently have the same level of access to Horizon 2020 as EU Member States, will not afford the UK the full benefits it gets from Framework Programmes at present. Strategic input into the direction of new programmes will not simply be achieved by attendance at programme committees. The UK risks being on the outside of key decisions about strategic direction of key programmes. The UK should seek to make a special case for being involved on strategic decision making and having a vote in committees based on:

  1. Our position as a world leader in science and innovation.
  2. Our massive historic contribution towards many programmes (including space, life sciences, metrology to name but a few), which would not have been so successful with the UK absent from the strategic planning.

Calling for the UK’s historic contributions to be acknowledged, and highlighting the potential detriment to the EU of losing UK involvement, would help secure our continued participation in the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI), and thereby ensure we remain involved in the development of the European Roadmap for research infrastructures.

In due course, we would welcome more detail on the government’s intentions, and we would be pleased to work with policy makers to identify practical approaches to achieve a strong Brexit deal for UK science and innovation.


Note to Editors

The UK’s thriving Innovation, Research and Technology (IRT) Sector, of which AIRTO represents approximately 80%, continues to punch well above its weight in the national economy, as shown by an independent study commissioned by AIRTO and carried out by Oxford Economics in 2014. The IRT Sector:

  • has tripled in size to £6.9Bn per annum since 2006
  • consumes just 0.3% of Government spend
  • displays productivity 45% higher than the national average
  • generates a contribution of >£32bn to UK GDP (>2.3% of the total) and >£13Bn to UK tax revenue
  • supports 140,100 jobs – equivalent total employment of Milton Keynes
  • directly employs >57,000 highly skilled people, equal to total academic staff of the Russell Group, and considerably more than Germany’s Fraunhofers

The sustained growth of the IRT Sector has the potential to significantly enhance UK productivity. Research suggests that every £1 spent in this area in recent years has generated, on average, £7 for the wider economy and that, more broadly, every £1 of public spending on R&D adds £4 to the value of market sector output.

Find out more from the Oxford Economics report

For further information please contact:

Dr Jane Gate, Executive Director, AIRTO

Tel: +44 (0)20 8943 6354