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Collaboration should continue...but will UK R&D have ‘open doors’ post Brexit?

Newly appointed Universities and Science minister Sam Gyimah has arrived on the scene just as the latest phase of the UK’s research ambitions is about to be rolled out.

And the UK does appear to be ambitious. With the latest investments, some £12billion will be spent on R&D by 2022. In the current economic – and political – environment, that’s not small change.

While Gyimah has only been in position for a matter of weeks, it appears he has already ‘had his ear bent’ by a range of vested interests on the areas where further help is needed.

But Gyimah’s comments relating to Brexit are interesting. Speaking at the launch of the UK’s first National Research and Innovation Infrastucture Roadmap, he said: “Science is at its best when we collaborate with other countries and welcome researchers to this country.” And the comment was welcomed by the audience. “The UK has reaped huge benefit from Horizon 2020 and Future Framework projects,” he continued, “and I’ll be looking to secure a good R&D agreement, despite Brexit.”

Do Gyimah’s comments sit at odds with the current Government perspective? Some would certainly think so. Despite a serious lack of clarity regarding what the Government wants from Brexit, collaboration with the EC’s Framework programmes and Horizon 2020 may not be at the top of the list.

While Gyimah highlighted the importance of welcoming the world’s best research minds to the UK, he also said it was vital that the UK made the most of its own talent and called on the scientific community to embrace a more diverse workforce.

Alongside diversification, one thing which should be near to or at the top of Gyimah’s ‘to do’ list is the need to improve the investment in R&D by UK companies. “Business R&D in this country remains low by international standards,” he said. Our aim is to raise R&D spend to 2.4% of GDP and it is an important challenge.”

While the Government is keen to push money into R&D, there has to be similar enthusiasm from industry – and, so far, that has yet to be evident.

Graham Pitcher

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