Shortly after the referendum this summer the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, a parliamentary committee of MPs including Cambridge’s Daniel Zeichner, launched an inquiry to inform and provide recommendations to the government about how to handle the impact on the science and technology sector of the UK leaving the EU.
When PdOC became aware of this inquiry in July we decided that we wanted to contribute, as Brexit is something that directly or indirectly is already affecting our community. Thus, in the beginning of August we held an Open Meeting at the Postdoc Centre in town in which 21 people participated. There was a very interesting discussion about the ways in which being part of the EU is currently affecting us as researchers and people, and how we think that may change in the future.
The result of this discussion became our submission to the inquiry, which has since been published along with over 270 other written submissions the committee received. For instance, the University of Cambridge submitted written evidence, as did the postdoc group in the Plant Sciences department (here) and a group of early career researchers from several UK universities whose submission was signed by over 1,600 people, including many from our society.
On Friday 18th November, the report based on the inquiry was published by the committee and it is an interesting read. Their main recommendations are that the Department for exiting the EU appoint a Chief Scientific Advisor, that science expenditure as a percentage of GDP should be raised by the government as soon as possible, and that researchers from the EU already working in the UK be exempt from potential future immigration controls.
We note that many of the issues raised in our submission, in particular the risks for the UK to be able to recruit talent, and the importance of international mobility for the sector, are addressed in the report. As far as I can see, early career researchers are mentioned only twice in the report; in reference to evidence from the UCL Institute of Neurology Postdoc Committee that “18% of them were now actively seeking jobs in other countries”, and in reference to evidence from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute that the government should monitor recruitment figures for “relatively short (3 years or less) but highly skilled and highly mobile groups, such as postdoctoral fellowships (…)”.
After reading the report my main reflection is that although the committee acknowledges that different issues for the sector, specifically “funding, people, collaboration, regulation and facilities”, cannot be considered in isolation, they fail to consider the broader societal context that we are finding ourselves in at the moment. It may not be enough to promise researchers from the EU already living here exemption from future potential immigration controls, many may chose to leave anyway. Many may chose not come in the first place because of the unwelcoming climate towards immigrants in general that is becoming more and more prevalent. Perhaps it was beyond the remit of the inquiry to go into detail and provide recommendations to alleviate this, but the fact that it is not even acknowledged as a problem is troubling.
Adina L. Feldman, PdOC President