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Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction

Transforming infrastructure through smarter information

Professor Lord Robert Mair made the case for continued mobility and knowledge transfer between UK and EU academia and industry post-Brexit in his introductory address to the Brexit Science and Innovation Summit.


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Speaking at the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee event, which was held to identify concerns and actions needed to mitigate risks and exploit opportunities for UK science, research and innovation after Brexit, Lord Mair highlighted the importance of enabling UK and EU researchers, institutions and businesses to deliver research and innovation excellence with long-term planning. This includes secured mobility that enables the recruitment of top talent, access to EU funding for collaborative research, and favourable access to UK universities and research institutions from and by EU researchers.

“As a professor at the University of Cambridge, I am acutely aware that the greatest risk of Brexit on research comes from threats to academia. Construction research benefits from the impressive capabilities of our universities, and a decline here would have significant consequences.

“Evidence shows that the UK is a net beneficiary of EU research-related activities, with a net gain of €3.4 billion above our contributions in the period from 2007 to 2013.”

Lord Mair, President of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and member of the Lords Select Committee for Science and Technology, also brought attention to the need for talented engineers, researchers and innovators from the EU to have certainty about opportunities to work in the UK – and for that opportunity to extend to UK researchers to work in EU countries. He urged that the skills gap also be considered: “There is an estimated 130,000 engineers and engineering technicians needed per year until 2022.”

The summit, which was attended by many key figures from the sector, including Kevin Baughan, Deputy CEO of Innovate UK, Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, President of The Royal Society, and the new Science Minister Sam Gyimah, was held at the ICE headquarters in London on 22 February.  

The event follows on from the report by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, titled A time for boldness (December 2016), that considered the issue of EU membership and UK science after the referendum. Lord Mair said: “We must all work together to identify what actions are needed to mitigate the risks, and, collectively, we must exploit the opportunities for UK science, research and innovation after Brexit.” Referring to the House of Lords report, he said: “An uncertain era is certainly a time for boldness, not timidity. We need bold steps to prepare the UK for life outside the opportunities and constraints of EU membership, and to seek an even more prominent place for this country in the global economy.”

During the summit, a number of panels considered contributions from the assembled cohort regarding key post-Brexit issues affecting the science and technology community, including people, funding, collaboration and regulation. There were many well-informed points made by a range of stakeholders, including Sir Venki Ramakrishnan who brought focus to the importance of mobility in the global science and technology community. He cited the Laboratory of Molecular Biology, in Cambridge, as one example of the excellence that can emerge from mobility in science – the Laboratory’s first three directors were all immigrants and they all won Nobel prizes: “You may ask, ‘Why is mobility important at all? Why simply couldn’t we grow our own talent and why do we need immigrants?’ The reason is that when you have mobility you have a much more rapid exchange of ideas and expertise. That allows you to remain at the cutting edge of, essentially, any science or technology. You cannot, in isolation, hope to be the leader forever.”

The summit, which ran for nearly four hours, was closed by the chair, Norman Lamb MP, who invited any additional written evidence to be submitted to the Committee before the next meeting with the Science Minister in early March. He said: “We stand at a vital crossroads in the Brexit negotiations. By holding this summit before the next stage of negotiations commence, we can ensure that our priorities are clear and our demands are delivered right to the heart of government."

Following the summit a report will be submitted to the Government and the public to set out the critical priorities of the science community.


Read the full transcript of the House of Commons Brexit Science and Innovation Summit here

View the Brexit Science and Innovation Summit on YouTube here. See from 20.30.

Read the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee report: A time for boldness: EU membership and UK science after the referendum, here.