As we get back underway in the new year, I wanted to follow up on the letter I sent you in the summer of 2016 to update you on some of the things that we have been doing to ensure there is a strong voice for physics, and for science and engineering more widely, as part of the Brexit discussions.
We know well – all the evidence shows – that physics is hugely beneficial to the UK economy and society, and we want to ensure the UK remains world-leading whatever the political outcome.
We will be talking more about this in 2017 as we launch our Physics and the Economy reports across this UK in the early part of this year.
In the autumn of 2016, we welcomed the announcement in November’s Autumn Statement of an additional £2 bn per year, by 2020, of investment into research and development in science and technology. This was clearly a piece of good news in what remains a challenging economic climate – but how it is spent will be hugely important.
Against that backdrop, we are continuing to make sure physicists’ voices are heard, highlighting the community’s concerns around the movement of people, the future of our European facilities and how the UK is able to collaborate with these, and a commitment to maintain current levels of funding and partnerships in UK physics.
Universities and businesses in the UK rely upon physicists from all over the world, including the EU, to work in the UK as warmly welcomed and valued colleagues, whether as researchers helping to create our world-class research programme or as technicians providing much-valued support in our labs. Indeed, 20% of UK physics PhD students and 26% of all UK physics academic staff come from elsewhere in the EU.
And funding from the EU contributes to the UK’s world-leading science base – more than 16% of all research-grant income for UK physics departments comes from EU sources.
We have been working closely with other learned societies and professional bodies across all of science and engineering, including the European Physical Society to ensure the best outcome for science. Together we are helping to support the work of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to play its part in the Brexit negotiations, and making sure the voice of our community is represented.
We have also been responding to government consultations, meeting face-to-face with policymakers, both in the Commons and the Lords, and holding two town meetings – in Belfast and in Edinburgh – to help gather the views of the community. Others are planned for Cardiff and England later this year and we will announce those dates over the next couple of months.
We are collating data on our physics workforce and on student numbers in universities and in further education in support of our work with the minister, and continuing to build an evidence base on how a new relationship with the EU might affect UK physics. If you would like to contribute, please get in touch with Alex Connor and the policy team via firstname.lastname@example.org.
You may also wish to keep track of progress on the Higher Education and Research Bill as it progresses through the House of Lords, and watch out for the Green Paper on the government’s new industrial strategy.
As things gather pace in late spring, I will write to you again with an update, and some feedback from our town meetings across the UK.
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