The annual Parliamentary Links Day is an opportunity for science organisations to discuss current issues in science policy with representatives from government responsible for science and research.
The event is organised by the Royal Society of Biology in partnership with a large number of other scientific societies. This year’s Links Day took place on 28 June, and included talks from Jo Johnson, Minister for Universities and Science, Nicola Blackwood, Chair of the Science and Technology Select Committee and Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society.
Unsurprisingly, in the week after the EU referendum, the theme of the day was ‘Science after the referendum: what next?’ Representatives from the Geological Society went along, and reported back on some of the outcomes.
Students and research funding
“With the political situation still uncertain, it was difficult for parliamentarians to offer much of the reassurance the audience wanted. Jo Johnson, science minister, promised that the Spending Review and Queen’s Speech commitments to science still stood; but no-one mentioned the effect of a stalled economy on these promises. He did make the useful promise that EU students, including those starting this autumn, would maintain their entitlement to Student Loan Company loans until the end of their courses (although we were reminded that this promise at present applies only to England), that there was no immediate loss of residency entitlement to EU citizens working in the UK, or UK citizens working in the rest of the EU, that Horizon 2020 funding was still open to EU applications and that current Erasmus students and 2017 applicants would be unaffected.”
“The day’s message was of the need for persistent advocacy to get a place for science at the exit negotiating table, and ensure that the EU funding shortfall was made up. This might be from UK resources or, perhaps preferably, by negotiating the UK’s continued access to EU science funding.
“Advocacy for science needs to transcend political party divisions, to convince the sceptical population that science is important. Nicola Blackwood (chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee) hit the note by saying that top-down solutions will not work, and we need to replace federal structures with new methods that engage people locally.”
Trust in scientists
“Imran Khan (British Science Association) pointed out that although opinion polls suggest that 79% of the population trusts scientists (significantly more than those who trust politicians), either the pro-Remain message from scientists hadn’t got through or people voting Leave had decided they did not care. We need to change the fact that science is not a big deal for most people.”
“Questioners pointed out that although the UK’s membership of (among others) CERN, the European Space Agency and the new European Spallation Source are not predicated on EU membership, access to EU-based collaborations that work on instrumentation and data from these projects might now be more difficult for UK researchers.
A PhD student in the audience said that young people might be thinking of leaving the UK to advance their scientific careers. Stuart Pritchard (Wellcome Trust) admitted that it was easy for young people to despair, but we needed to have faith in the strength of the UK science base and remain open to minimising barriers.
Lord O’Neill, the commercial secretary to the Treasury, reminded us of the importance of non-EU fora: maintaining economic dialogue with India and China, and using the G20 and UN to advance the recommendations in his recent report on the spread of antimicrobial resistance. The UK’s initiative in producing this report had been highly praised internationally. He also advertised the imminent launch in Liverpool of the Northern Powerhouse, with its opportunities for science and technology based local industry.”
This event came very early in the wake of Brexit and so there was a limited amount of information around the impact that leaving the EU will have on science and research. Here at the Society, we are continuing to monitor the shifting political landscape and its impact on geoscience, in the interests of Fellows and the broader geoscientific community.
We will be updating our EU referendum resource page with all the latest news and activities.