Safeguarding Research Collaborations and Scientific Excellence

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 7th November 2018.

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Photo of Alexander Stewart Alexander Stewart Conservative

Yes, I am well aware that 2020 is not that far away, but it is the starting point and we will continue to move forward from then as we see the success that is gained.

Moreover, as part of the financial settlement that has been agreed between the UK and the European Commission, both the UK and the EU have agreed that the eligibility of UK researchers and businesses to participate in horizon 2020 will remain unchanged for the duration of the programme.

Although that is good news for the short term until 2020, we must continue to have strong working relationships with research institutions in the EU after that date. John Mason makes the very point that we will continue to do that. There is every possibility that we will continue to participate in the horizon programme as a third country in the same way as many non-EU countries are participating in the current horizon 2020 programme. That needs to become a reality; we need to ensure that we have that safeguard in place so that, after 2020, it becomes a reality.

Moreover, in the white paper on the future relationship between the EU and the UK, the Government proposed close co-operation between the UK and the EU on scientific research through co-operative accords, which seek to continue the UK’s participation in EU research funding programmes, and to allow us to continue to co-operate through networks, institutions, infrastructure, agencies and regulators where there is mutual benefit to the UK and the EU in our doing so.

It is incredibly important that the best and brightest researchers from the EU and other parts of the world can be here. We can look at what we have achieved so far by having such individuals here; they make a massive contribution to our facilities and will continue to do so. Currently, 19 per cent of researchers in Scotland are from the EU and 16 per cent are from other parts of the world. There is an opportunity for that to continue to grow and blossom.

It is reassuring that the UK Government has confirmed that EU citizens’ right of residency after Brexit will be guaranteed, as those citizens include many researchers who are already here. We are attempting to ensure that safeguards are in place before we get to that point to ensure that it happens, because that is what we require. I am confident that that will be the case as we go forward.

We need to look at the visa system that we have in order for universities to secure the highest calibre researchers. I call on the UK Government to keep that in mind as we shape a new immigration system following our departure from the EU.