Truss handed masterplan to make UK ‘world-leading power’

Lord Frost gives update on UK’s participation in Horizon Europe

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Following Brexit disputes, the EU blocked the UK from joining its £80billion Horizon Europe programme, despite Britain negotiating its entry into the scheme. Horizon Europe would have offered UK researchers access to prestigious grants and opportunities to collaborate with European partners. While Britain may be blocked from accessing research funds, the country is developing its own plans to become a “science superpower”, with former science minister George Freeman having developed a “Plan B” to use the UK’s £15billion Horizon contribution on its own programme.

Speaking at the Science and Technology Committee at the House of Lords, several experts highlighted the positive developments made by the Government and called for more action.

Harry Anderson, the Policy Manager at Universities UK said: “Universities welcome the science superpower narrative because I think it builds on a lot of the points we’ve been hearing about certainty, stability and long-term funding commitment.”

He noted that following Brexit, the rate of international students and researchers from non-EU countries has grown much faster than the rate of EU researchers coming to the UK.

The Government has previously acknowledged that the UK needs 150 thousand more people working in STEM, but Mr Anderson questioned where the UK would be able to reach that target.

He added: “There have been some really positive developments in the higher education sector, I would just like to highlight three.

“The global talent visa has been really impactful for our universities.

“I would also say that the Graduate route, which would sort of retain the talent that the UK universities have invested in over the last three to five years.

“And also, a very recent development is the great talent campaign, if you look at other countries there’s research in Germany that’s a really great platform that enables overseas talent that is thinking about relocating to Germany to find everything in a one-stop shop platform.

“I think we’ve managed to develop a UK version of that but I think right now it’s a bit too much promotional than it is practical information that any researchers or people looking to work in STEM would like to access.”

Meanwhile, Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, the Chief Executive Officer at UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) warned that the “visa issue is rather critical, and particularly the expense of the health surcharge which people wishing to move to the UK have to pay upfront at the time they enter for the length of their visa.”

International students are forced to pay thousands of pounds upfront when entering the country in the form of visa fees and NHS charges, which can be prohibitively expensive..

However, she added: “The offers we have across the UK are still in general very competitive and very good at attracting overseas people.

“I would say our issue is that we’re very much on the cusp and it’s that set of intangibles that I think we need to ensure, maintain and drive our competitiveness.

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“One of the things we’ve done in our new spending review allocation is creating a pooled talent budget, we’ve put all of those talent offers together, in one integrated budget, and we will work forward over the next three years to balance that portfolio.”

Meanwhile, Professor Maggie Dallman OBE, Vice President at Imperial College London underscored points about developing the entire research ecosystem, saying “this has to function for us to be a world-leading science and technology power.

“Getting it right across the whole ecosystem is challenging and expensive, but the investment we believe will be there.”

Following her Tory leadership win yesterday, Ms Truss was urged to devise a “bold vision” that must involve “international collaboration” to allow British science to “thrive” after researchers were left in the dark over this impasse.

Sir Adrian Smith, President of the Royal Society, urged Ms Truss to “get the Brexit part of science done” by breaking the impasse, which is causing the UK to “lose talent”.

He said: “Science is global and the impact of Brexit has increasingly made UK science look insular.

“The last Government was fully committed to the UK associating to EU science funding schemes but after nearly two years we are still waiting.

“While we wait, confidence in and around UK science is ebbing away and we are losing talent. It would be a real win for the new PM to get the science part of Brexit done now.”

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