Bolster European Research Area to boost science post-Brexit

The European Research Area (ERA) should be strengthened and broadened to increase scientific collaboration between member states and associated countries including the UK, according to a new report from Wellcome.

Europe at night from space
Funding that spans national borders is much more productive, the report shows, as it encourages bigger research networks.
Credit: iStock

The Future Partnership Project report, Building a Strong Future for European Science: Brexit and Beyond [PDF 641KB], based on consultations with more than 200 UK and European scientists and policy makers, makes recommendations about how greater scientific collaboration could be achieved after Brexit.

It recommends a Brexit deal that:

  • enables the UK to influence, pay into and access European research funding as an associated country, like Norway, Switzerland and Israel
  • aligns scientific research regulation between the UK and EU
  • supports full researcher mobility between the UK and the European Economic Area (EEA) through a mutual, simple and quick approach that enables the scientific workforce and their families to move easily between countries.

A stronger ERA would require greater investment and commitment from member states and associate countries outside the EU.

The report says that in return for continuing to pay in to the European research funding system, the UK and other associate countries should be given greater influence over the ERA.

Economic modelling shows that even if the UK pays more than it receives to retain access to European funding, it will receive considerable benefits in the long run through jobs, new medical treatments and a strong university sector. 

Cross-border funding collaborations

Funding schemes that span national borders are much more productive, the report shows, as they encourage collaboration and create bigger research networks than countries funding research programmes individually.

The ERA is the most effective cross-border funding collaboration in the world. Bringing associated countries closer in this network, potentially with new countries such as Canada, would make the European Research Area even stronger, helping it capitalise on the strengths and talents of a wider group of nations.

A close, successful relationship would keep UK and EU regulations aligned, and maintain high standards of privacy, animal welfare and patient safety. The report states that the UK can be proud to have built, with the EU, the strongest regulations for science in the world and that working together can promote more responsible research across the globe.

Best possible deal for UK science

Eliza Manningham-Buller, Chair of Wellcome, says: "European science is a huge success story. A badly handled Brexit risks damaging British – and European – science. But with the right agreement, it’s possible we could maintain and even improve scientific collaboration with our European neighbours. This will mean compromise on both sides, but the gains will be great too, with access to more clinical trials, data resources and excellent funding opportunities.

"There is strong political support for a positive science deal across UK parties and across Europe. Making progress in this area where there is already agreement will get the best possible deal for UK science and put us in a good position to negotiate the rest of the deal."

What Wellcome is doing

  • Continuing discussions with other foundations and the European Commission about areas of shared interest
  • Holding a series of meetings with young leaders in research around Europe to build further consensus on what is needed to deliver a strong future for European research
  • Publishing a review of regulatory opportunities that the UK should seize after Brexit, particularly in emerging technologies.