Scientists concerned Brexit could hinder cutting-edge research and collaboration
23 May 2016
I recently visited the Insigneo Institute for In silico Medicine at the University of Sheffield for a panel discussion with staff and postgraduate research students on the impact of the ‘Brexit’ hypothesis on UK leadership in technological research. The Executive Director of the Institute Professor Marco Ventconti explained the beneficial impact of EU funding has had on Insigneo’s work. I also heard from staff and students on their own experience of EU membership such as visa-free travel, the right to live, work and study on their studies and careers.
The Insigneo Institute is an interdisciplinary collaboration between the university and Sheffield NHS Teaching Hospitals. Spanning over 5 research areas and 32 departments, the Institute focuses on developing patient centred computer systems. These digital systems are used to improve diagnosis, treatment and patient self-management of some medical conditions through a biomedical framework called the Virtual Physiological Human initiative. The benefits of collaborative work undertaken by Insigneo, as Professor Viceconti pointed out, cannot be understated.
Under the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and development fund the UK will receive £8.5bn over the next 4 years. From that, Yorkshire & Humber region is set to receive £743 million. Within the region, the University of Sheffield has been a major beneficiary of funding for collaborative projects and fellowships: from numerous projects at the Advanced Manufacturing Park in Rotherham receiving over £32 million, £5.2million for a sustainable agriculture project to a £4.9m EU funded project looking at heart disease awarded to the Insigneo Institute. The UK’s membership of the EU has had a positive impact on scientific research and ensured that in fields such as biomedicine the UK is leading the way in cutting-edge research and technology.
Over 100 University, Vice Chancellors have signed a letter voicing their concerns over a potential Brexit. Universities UK has highlighted the financial benefits EU membership brings whether it’s the Erasmus programme, or the £3.7bn EU students generate for the UK economy. Those on the “leave” side have not been able to provide a realistic answer of the impact of a potential Brexit on science and research in the UK.
EU membership has provided access to considerable funding streams, allowed collaboration with other EU institutions leading to ground-breaking research, enabled the hiring of the best and most skilled academics from across the European Union and has provided students with grants, studentships, and apprenticeships without being hampered by visa issues. Voting to leave puts all this at risk.