Published on April 28th, 2016 | by frances0
Scientists flock to EU referendum debate
By Graham Stewart, Prospect parliamentary and campaign officer
Scientists from across the Harwell campus in Oxfordshire heard a fascinating debate in April on the EU referendum.
More than 100 members and staff turned up to the event that was organised by Prospect’s Diamond Light Source branch.
Mike Galsworthy, programme director of Scientists4EU and Jamie Martin, science policy adviser for Scientists for Britain, were the key speakers.
A straw poll at the beginning of the debate showed that the audience was equally divided between staying and leaving Europe.
Mike Galsworthy said the EU was a global hub for science research. The latest UNESCO data showed that 62% of the UK’s research outputs were international collaborations – compared to 39.6% in the USA.
Galsworthy said a 2013 UK government report found that the UK’s increasing internationalisation had recently put us ahead of the US for science productivity.
He argued that far from being dominated by bureaucrats, European science policy is dominated by scientists.
He also said that more than 100 university vice-chancellors had come out in favour of remaining in the EU.
A recent House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee report concluded that overall, the committee was in favour of remaining in the EU.
The report said: “The UK plays a leading role in the development of EU policies and decision-making processes that relate to science and research.
“UK scientists in various EU fora act to ensure that the UK’s voice is clearly heard and that the EU remains aligned with the advancement of UK science, particularly by shaping the balance between funding awarded on the basis of research excellence and that awarded for capacity building.”
Jamie Martin argued that because of its size, UK science could survive outside of the EU. He cited Britain’s membership of Horizon 2020 as evidence.
Horizon 2020 is a multinational science programme. The EU puts 8% of its budget (€80bn from 2014-2020) into it. UK researchers can pick and mix partners from right across Europe, putting together multinational dream teams, he added.
Martin said EU immigration policies were too restrictive and prevented the UK from taking in science talent from around the globe.
Leaving the EU would free the UK from regulation, and the EU’s centralising tendencies, vested interests and backward-looking institutions. He said these all worked against the flowering of scientific innovation.
Sue Ferns, deputy general secretary, opened up the discussion to the audience. One contributor said EU officials were ‘switched on and engaged’ and he wished UK officials were the same.
He said EU officials cannot understand why the UK would consider leaving. In his experience, recruiting staff from outside the EU to his project was not a problem.
In response, Mike Galsworthy said there were easy ways to solve migrant labour issues without having to leave the EU.
Asked to set out their visions for science in 20 years and their view on leadership in the UK, the speakers agreed that their visions for UK science were similar.
They both want an open, innovative environment for science with free trade agreements and open immigration not tied to a single continent.
Martin said he wanted a less bureaucratic leadership which is more open and ready to embrace the digital world.
Galsworthy said the question was whether the EU would be an impediment or a catalyst to such an open digital future.