EU membership sees UK businesses lose out while universities reap rewards, says lords report
UK businesses are lagging behind competitor nations seeking EU funding, while UK universities are reaping rewards, says a House of Lords report on the influence of EU membership on the UK.
The Lords Science and Technology Committee report EU membership and UK science - published today – also looked at other aspects of EU membership, such as freedom of movement of researchers and the ability to collaborate on major projects, concluding that these in particular are significant aspects of membership.
The report also highlights some negative aspects of the UK's EU membership, such as restrictive EU regulations that could prohibit innovative research.
As well as exploring these areas, the Committee's report also investigated ‘alternative scenarios', looking at what UK science might look like in the event of Brexit. Particular attention was paid to Switzerland, which currently has Associated Country status.
The report concludes that the UK could lose strategic influence on EU science policy in the event of a vote to leave.
Chair of the Committee, Lord Selborne said:
“The UK science community places a high value on the UK's membership of the EU. Collaboration, funding, facilities and policy make EU membership a key part of the UK's outstanding science base, and this report looks at these areas in detail.
Our aim was to present a much clearer picture of the position of UK science within the EU, but we had to cut through a dense ‘Eurofog' of claim and counterclaim on many aspects of membership in order to do so.
Many witnesses claimed that the UK is a top performer in the race for R&D funding when that is only part of the picture. UK universities have outstanding performance in EU funding competitions while UK businesses, in particular large businesses, have low levels of participation and the UK, understandably, does not receive a high level of funding for scientific capacity building.
We urge the Government to benchmark the level of support it provides for businesses, large and small, wishing to participate in EU programmes against that available in other member states. We want to see Government plans for raising UK performance.”
“There was further confusion over major scientific facilities – some of which are operated by EU institutions while others – such as CERN - are simply located in continental Europe. Both sides of the debate need to be clear on such detail.
But it is plainly evident that UK science gains competitive advantage from close proximity and easy access to major facilities within Europe. Collaboration between scientists in EU member states and non-members on the European continent provide further valuable advantages for the UK.”
“The picture on regulation and scientific advice is mixed. Regulatory harmonisation within the EU is valued while in some areas - such as clinical trials - we heard passionate arguments that EU regulations put UK research at a disadvantage compared to competitors outside the EU.
We are optimistic about the new arrangements for scientific advice in the EU and heard repeatedly about the high levels of influence that the UK has secured in advisory and policy circles. That is just as well, because the effective use of science advice is an essential part of good policy.
We heard from many witnesses that Brexit would almost certainly result in a loss of strategic scientific influence on the EU stage. As an Associated Country, or potentially one even further detached, we could no longer have our seat at the decision-making table. The Committee concluded that further investigation would be needed to establish the extent of this loss of influence.”
Key Findings from the report
The status of the funding relationship between the UK and the EU is a complex one, but also one that bestows significant value to UK science from the European Union. Nearly one fifth (18.3%) of all the UK's incoming EU funding goes on scientific research and development.
The European Union's main funding system for science rewards excellence and the inquiry heard that the UK is one of the EU's top performers in terms of securing these competitive funding streams. This situation differs when funds for building capacity in science and research are considered.
The Committee is concerned over the poor level of engagement by large businesses in securing EU funding. We are below the EU average and lag behind competitor nations such as Germany and France. Given that 64% of research and development in the UK is conducted by businesses, this is a serious failing in the current set-up.
The inquiry heard that collaborative opportunities are perhaps the most significant benefit that EU membership affords science and research in the UK. The Committee heard of one example, a pan European bioscience research project called ELIXIR, which witnesses believed was headquartered in the UK as a result of our EU Membership. However, it should be noted that of the UK's top five collaborative partners, two are outside the EU (the US and Australia).
Freedom of Movement
The Committee heard countless assertions that the ease with which talented researchers and scientists can move between the UK and across the rest of the EU is an enormous advantage to our country's science community. The report agrees that this freedom of movement is an absolutely key benefit to the UK, and every effort should be made to preserve it.
The Committee examined the implications of alternatives to the UK being a full EU Member State. One example would be becoming an Associated Country. The inquiry heard that the UK would still be able to receive EU funds, and would continue with involvement in European and international scientific projects, but many thought that it would no longer have the same level of high-level strategic influence. The Committee concluded that further investigation is necessary to ascertain how Brexit might impact our currently influential position in Europe.