There appears to be a common concern amongst pro-EU commentators that our scientific community is somehow less robust than it appears, and that leaving the political structures of the EU would have an unduly adverse impact on UK science. To explain why we think this concern is misplaced, we only need to look at the reality of our strong scientific standing within the world. A recent UNESCO Science Report revealed that for a country with 0.9% of the world’s population, the UK has 3.3% of the world’s scientific researchers who in turn produce 6.9% of global scientific output. Indeed, a recent UK Government funding document found that the UK produced around 15.1% of the world’s most highly-cited (or regarded) scientific papers. From these figures, there is no doubt that our industrious and talented scientists punch way above their weight when it comes to global science – hardly a position of weakness.
In order to quantify the potential impact from Brexit, we next need to look at the current impact of EU funded science networks on UK Science. The UK Allocation of Science and Research Funding 2015/16 document from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) revealed that its overall investment in UK science and research would be £5.8bn for the Financial Year 2015/16. By contrast, the European Research Council (ERC), the organisation that funds projects done through EU science networks, has a budget for 2016 of £1.3bn; and that is to fund all 28 EU countries and the 13 non-EU countries that currently participate in the ERC funding programmes. Given that the UK received around 14.4% of ERC funds from the most recent funding programme (FP7) [evidence here], we could expect around £190 million of EU science funding in 2016.
Based on the above evidence, and our historical success in accessing the ERC’s FP7 funding programme, this suggests that the potential EU contribution to UK Science from the ERC’s Horizon2020 programme in 2016 is around 3.3% of that derived from the UK government, which adds weight to our argument that leaving the political structures of the EU would have no more than a 10% impact on our overall scientific output. That is also assuming that (i) the UK government chose not to provide transitional funding relief following Brexit, and (ii) the UK chose not to continue our participation in the ERC programmes on a the same pay-in basis that 13 non-EU countries already do.
Hopefully the above reasoning is sufficient to demonstrate that UK Science is not reliant on EU funding to the extent that some pro-EU commentators would have us believe, and that such arguments do not reflect the reality surrounding the current strength of UK Science.