As part of its ongoing inquiry into the relationship between EU membership and the effectiveness of UK science, research and innovation, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee invited the Academy's President, Professor Sir Robert Lechler PMedSci to present evidence at a session in Westminster on 12 January 2016.
During two consecutive sessions, the committee also heard from representatives from other National Academies as well as senior figures of other learned societies representing the social sciences.
Many topics were addressed and there was consensus among the witnesses that cooperating with the EU on science and innovation has a number of positive effects on UK research and development.
EU funding sources were found to offer greater stability compared to UK alternatives, with the seven-year Framework Programmes facilitating planning and recruitment. Witnesses noted that the UK is a net beneficiary of EU science funding. UK businesses are also engaged with EU funding sources, though it was felt that there is room for further improvement in the UK’s performance here.
The President stressed that European funding programmes had been shaped by input from the UK, and that the UK’s success in attracting competitively-awarded grants was a reflection of the quality of our science. He also noted the value of harmonisation across the EU to some research areas, such as epidemiological studies that benefit from access to larger datasets. The EU Data Protection Regulation, which we have been working to influence, was cited as an example of this kind of harmonisation.
The witnesses believed that the UK’s membership status provides security and stability for the research community, and increased opportunities for collaboration and regulatory influence. They discussed the possibility that a different status might introduce greater volatility and could affect early career researchers, who currently have the opportunity to work freely across the EU. Science was described as a global enterprise, with mobility benefitting research outputs, as well as research careers, institutions and industry.
Witnesses did not comment on the forthcoming referendum, but noted that it will be important to retain these benefits for science and innovation, irrespective of the outcome.
Finally, the President joined the other representatives in stating that the Academies will seek to inform debate in this area and the Royal Society has already published analysis of the role of EU funding in UK research.
A full list of witnesses present at the session is below.
Professor Alex Halliday FRS, Vice-President, The Royal Society
Professor Sir Robert Lechler PMedSci FKC, President of the Academy of Medical Sciences
Professor Ric Parker CBE FREng, Director of Research and Technology, Rolls-Royce plc (representing the Royal Academy of Engineering)
Sir Emyr Jones Parry, President, The Learned Society of Wales
David Walker, Head of Policy, Academy of Social Sciences
Professor Dame Helen Wallace, Europe Liaison Chair, British Academy