Brexit: Impact on Universities and Scientific Research - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:10 pm on 3rd November 2016.

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Photo of Lord Kakkar Lord Kakkar Crossbench 12:10 pm, 3rd November 2016

My Lords, I too join in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Soley, on having secured this important debate. I declare my interests as professor of surgery at University College London, director of the Thrombosis Research Institute in London and chairman of UCL Partners.

World-class science research and innovation is a global success story for our country. With 1% of the global population and 3% of expenditure in research and development, we are able to deliver 15% of the most highly cited publications globally. This is vitally important not only for the health and wealth of society but for investment in research and innovation, which is a remarkably effective lever in driving economic growth and opportunity for our population.

As we have heard in this debate, there is no doubt that there is concern about the implications of our country leaving the European Union. In terms of research funding, we have heard about the disproportionate success that our universities have had to date in securing funding—some 10% of research funding at our universities comes from the European Union. However, we have a unique ecosystem in our country beyond the funding from the EU, and at this time it is therefore important for the national debate to focus on what we need to do to secure those remarkable achievements in science, research and innovation well into the future.

One thing that we have heard about is the development of an industrial strategy. I should like to ask Her Majesty’s Government what approach has been taken in terms of development of a strategy for the future funding of our science base at universities for innovation and research. There is no doubt that the opportunities alluded to for research funding from the European Union need to be considered carefully. They represent an important part of the ability of our universities to remain globally competitive. Therefore, Her Majesty’s Government will need to consider carefully how that research funding is replaced not only in terms of the quantum of funding available but, as we have heard, by ensuring that the funding, when it becomes available at a national level, is directed to allow our great institutions and successful research community to interact with the kind of collaborative networks globally with which they are currently able to interact through participation in European schemes.

In that regard, have Her Majesty’s Government given thought to the development of new funding streams that might target particularly the ability of our institutions and home collaborative networks to continue to collaborate in the European Union? As we have heard, those will be vitally important, particularly in areas of medical research such as rare diseases, as well as in opening up the opportunity for us to collaborate beyond Europe with networks in the United States, Asia and among other Commonwealth countries, where there will be the opportunity for enhanced research collaboration. This does not take away from the need for us to remain active participants in European networks and, in certain circumstances, in the funding streams that will provide great opportunity to our universities.

There is also an important opportunity at this stage to consider the overall funding available for research and innovation in our country. Although in the austerity years—with the support of European Union funding—our universities were able to remain competitive on a global scale, the reality is that in terms of OECD member investment in research and innovation we are at the bottom of the league. That is an unsatisfactory situation for a nation that prides itself on being a knowledge economy and committing itself to a future in which innovation will drive social advancement, improvement in the lives of our citizens and opportunities for our economy. As part of the industrial strategy, have Her Majesty’s Government considered increasing the overall funding available for science and research in our country to bring it at least to the average level of OECD member country investment in this area? Clearly, we would still not be investing as much as some of our competitors, such as Germany and the United States, but we would strengthen the overall base and send a very powerful message to the rest of the world that science and innovation remain at the heart of the purpose of our country.

In that regard, what attempts have Her Majesty’s Government made to work with our learned societies and national academies to see how they might contribute to this process, inform this discussion and ensure that the very best environment is created in the future to secure the science and research base in our country?