Creating knowledge post-Brexit
As the UK’s journey towards Brexit has reached the halfway point, the Guild is not the first network to state the importance of the free and easy movement of staff and students, and collaboration in research; nor should we be the last.
Yet, we also emphasise the significance of collective investment in innovation. To ensure Europe’s leadership in the knowledge economy we require concerted action between industry, SMEs, start-ups and universities, across borders. To achieve this, we need the common frameworks and programmes that currently exist through the EU, as well as dependable long-term planning and resources.
Our universities compete internationally for talent and ideas. We need, more than ever, international frameworks that enable scientific collaboration: common standards on research ethics, open access, intellectual property, and human resources. The European Union has been ideally placed to become an agenda-setter in this regard, even if the European Research Area is far from complete. The EU has been able to secure the quality of, and international visibility for its funded research programmes not least because of the active participation and the input of UK-based researchers. Any future collaboration between the EU and the UK must continue to facilitate this close interdependence of influence and standards.
When the UK leaves the EU it will not have access to the same governance processes, but we must preserve the quality of the contributions UK researchers have to offer. For instance, the first and the last chairs of the European Research Council’s (ERC) Identification Committee came from the UK, and 4 out of 22 members of the ERC’s Scientific Council are affiliated with UK universities. UK researchers face the same challenges around research, innovation and education, and they are part of the solutions to the key questions we confront: how do we govern and implement Open Science? How do we better realise the impact of our research and engage with the wider public? And how do we best embrace interdisciplinarity and employability in our teaching? Future negotiations must acknowledge the political realities inherent in the UK’s decision to leave the EU, while doing everything possible to sustain the quality of the collaboration between UK and EU scientists, innovators, and educators.
There is another way in which universities (and the researchers and students within them) need to engage with the implications of Brexit. When Brexit negotiators return to London on the Eurostar, they are welcomed by Sir George Gilbert Scott’s St. Pancras station. Perhaps one of the most iconic buildings of nineteenth-century Britain, its Venetian Gothic style also enshrines the influence of continental Europe on Victorian culture, and on its universities – just as Victorian travellers and intellectuals left their mark on the continent, wherever they went. At a time of easy assertions about the meanings of sovereignty and political legitimacy, universities have a duty to point to the interdependence of our histories and cultures.
Very often, our tropes of national belonging and distinctiveness have been inspired by ideas from abroad. As universities we need to assert the need to maintain closer collaboration, based on the evidence. As scholars, we need to engage with emotive assertions (to be found across Europe) that deny the European and transnational roots of identity.