The SoPD website is politically neutral.
We do, however, occasionally investigate and comment on proposals/new legislation/political events that may affect the Parkinson’s community, particularly those matters affecting the research community.
Today’s post is going to discuss some unintended consequences of BREXIT.
I would like to tell you a story about a friend of mine. For reasons of anonymity, we shall call her ‘Simone’.
We are very similar – Simone and I – in three ways:
1. She is also an academic researcher here in the UK, who came here over a decade ago and has made a nice little life for herself – starting a family and buying a house.
2. She is also a colonial – from a boomerang throwing member of the commonwealth (but we won’t hold that against her).
3. She is also very active in research engagement with her research field (maintaining some popular social media efforts).
Recently, Simone – like myself and many other foreign researchers – had to reapply for her residency permit to continue to stay and work in the UK.
And this is where the story really begins:
You see, Simone overlooked just one page in the 100 page application, and as a result her application was submitted without a particular piece of information regarding her partner’s employment situation. Specifically, three boxes were not ticked and evidence of the registration of her partner’s company as proof was missing.
No big deal, you would think. And usually the UK Home Office – which handles these applications – would simply send a letter requesting the additional information.
But not this time – Simone’s application was rejected.
To make matter worse, during the 2 month wait for the residency permit to be reviewed, Simone’s old permit expired!
And so, with the rejection letter from the Home Office, her research institute had no option but to inform Simone that she could not legally come to work. She was left on ‘leave without pay’ and had one month to get a letter from the Home Office demonstrating that another application was under review or her contract with the institute would be terminated (as per the rules of her contract).
Now, given the fine spell of weather the UK has recently had over the summer, some might say that this was a blessing in disguise. She could just lie in the garden, drink sangria, and work on her tan while she was waiting (it really was an amazing summer this year in the UK!). Others, however, might point to the UK after BREXIT and ask what are the chances that this situation will happen with any of the EU scientists who want to come to the UK to do their research.
All of Simone’s projects were left in standby, and her international collaborators had to manage without her until her return (if she returned!).
The new application was submitted 2 days after the rejection letter arrived and then began the wait. First there was the wait for the Biometix invitation letter (which asks you to visit one of several post offices that takes photos and finger prints). That letter arrived 3 weeks into the 1 month stay of execution on the job contract. Usually that Biometrix letter takes a week to arrive, but with summer time…
Simone’s research institute were very kind and lenient given her length of employment with them and extended their termination date. Eventually, 6 weeks after submitting the second application, Simone received the letter that said ‘Your application is under review, you are free to return to work until a verdict is decided’.
During those 6 weeks, however, a few dark thoughts entered the otherwise light and airy mind of dear Simone, including ‘why am I bothering? Let’s just leave’.
There is a happy end to this story though: Simone’s second (“kitchen sink”) application was successful and she is now allowed to stay in the UK (for another 5 years at least).
But the whole experience has left Simone worried.
Not for herself or her family, but rather for research in the UK and the situation with BREXIT.
She is worried about what is going to happen with researchers from the EU seeking to come to the UK to do science.
You see, almost one in every five (17% or 33,735 EU citizens) research academics in the UK come from the EU (Source). And this statistic is slightly misleading – when you visit some of the major research institutes in the UK there is a much higher percentage from the EU (for example, the new £650 million Crick Institute in London has over 36% of its research staff coming come from EU countries).
The Crick Institute. Source: Archiexpo
After the UK separates itself from the EU next year, all of those researchers (who do not have a UK passport) are going to require some form of visa (if they are not eligible for ‘settled status’). What happens when some of their applications get rejected? Does their research simply stop?
Simone is also worried about the researchers who would like to come to the UK. If there is a long and expensive visa process, will they even come? Will an Italian scientist come to the UK if they could also do the same research in France or Germany without the visa issues?
And it would appear that Simone’s concerns are justified, as many young researchers have already made up their minds on this matter:
“Michael Arthur, president of University College London (UCL), told the [House of Commons Science and Technology] committee today that in the past, 30% of the applicants for a UCL research fellowship were usually from other EU countries; this year none was, “something that really quite shocked me,” Arthur said.” – ScienceMag, February 2018
And I can add my own version of this: I know of one major UK research institute that recently advertised a senior investigator position (the boss of their own lab), for which they usually get 150+ applicants, with about a third of the applications coming from the EU. Their 2018 advert drew 76 applications… and again, NONE of them came from the EU.
Somewhere, someone will be thinking “but researchers need visas to go to other countries (like the USA or NZ) so why is this a big deal?”.
And that is a fair point.
But this is where we come to the second aspect of BREXIT that has many in the research community concerned: Funding
Research consortiums are an important part of modern science. Large collaborations provide amazing opportunities for research groups with different expertise to come together and share their knowledge, skills and resources in tackling specific ‘big questions’. And the EU has promoted this activity via funding bodies like Horizon 2020 (a €75 billion programme of research funding over seven years).
From February to September 2016, the proportion of UK participation in the Horizon 2020 project was 15%, and it took 16% of the share of total funding. Over the same period in 2017, UK participation fell to 12% and funding fell to 13% (Source). This drop in the proportion of funding awarded to UK research institutes may not seem like much, but it represents £100+ million.
And the research community has been seeking clarity and guidance from the UK government regarding access to these large sources of EU research funding over the next year. On 10 August (2018), the UK government released a document that said in the event of a ‘no-deal BREXIT’, the UK would still have access to Horizon 2020 as a “third country”.
But then last week, the UK government published this report:
This report stated clearly that (after 29th March 2019) as a ‘third country’ applicant, UK institutions would not be eligible for three of the primary Horizon 2020 funding lines: European Research Council (ERC) grants, Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions (MSCA), and SME instrument (SMEi).
No access to these main conduits of funding would represents not only the loss of €577.35 million per year for UK researchers, but also the inability to co-ordinate large EU research collaboration groups using these sources of funding.
And EU grants are not the only source of funding that UK universities are worried about.
Last year nearly 135,000 EU students studied at UK universities (Source). This represents just 6% of the total student body, but the fees that they pay equates a lot of money for UK universities.
At present those EU students are treated the same as UK students. They pay the same £9,250 (per year) undergraduate fees and they have access to UK government student loans. After BREXIT, however, those students will be considered international students, and they will be required to pay fees of up to £15-20,000 (per year – with no access to Government loan). A 2017 report by the Higher Education Policy Institute estimated that number of students coming from the EU would drop by as much as 60% after BREXIT.
Already figures from the major universities in the UK have revealed a 7% fall in EU students applying for position in 2017-18 (Source).
And again, these statistics are skewed, with some universities more affected than others. Prof Julia Black, pro vice-chancellor for research of the London School of Economic (LSE), suggests that they ‘would have to rethink what we teach and how’ if these declines continue (Source). LSE “feel very exposed”, she added, as 18% of its students are from European countries.
Other universities are also eyeing this situation as a serious potential loss of funding.
Readers from outside of the UK may be thinking what on earth does this have to do with me or Parkinson’s.
But there is an important lesson in here for everyone. Historian Professor Niall Ferguson once wrote that “the law of unintended consequences is the only real law of history” and he is so right. As nations, we often make big decisions, for particular reasons, only to later discover all kinds of unintended consequences as a result of not thinking the plan through in the first place.
While the people of the UK have democratically decided to leave the EU, it is now apparent that little thought was actually given to a plan on ‘how to leave’ prior to the vote. And although there has been some well considered economic arguments suggested for BREXIT, the practicalities of the process – as Pascal Lamy, the former director general of the World Trade Organisation, has suggested – are like “removing the egg from an omelette”.
The biggest concern for the research community in the UK is the visa issue. If there is going to be a long and expensive visa process for researchers/students seeking to come to the UK, there is genuine concern that they will simply chose not to come. And that loss of talent could have larger implications.
This is obviously one of the unintended (and un-discussed) consequences of Brexit.
Research in the UK is relatively well funded, particularly Parkinson’s research thanks to the fantastic support of the local charities. But a significant portion of the funding comes from the EU, and with that funding comes the opportunity to collaborate with EU-based research groups and access other EU resources/facilities.
Another unintended (and un-discussed) consequence of Brexit could be the loss of that funding and access.
I like to think that we are watching a lot of political theatre at the moment, and behind the scenes more serious negotiations are being conducted in a sensible manner. But I also fear that this is a bit like hoping that the Wizard of Oz will pull the curtain aside and everything will be perfect.
Apologies for the rant, but of late, Simone and I have become more and more concerned.
The banner for today’s post was sourced from tbivision