UK scientists 'are going to be all right,' after Brexit, science minister promises
In January, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May appointed Sam Gyimah as science and universities minister as a part of a broader cabinet reshuffle. Gyimah, a Conservative member of parliament representing East Surrey, replaced Jo Johnson, who had been science minister for almost 3 years. Last month, Gyimah came to the United States on a whistlestop tour. He visited pharmaceutical companies in Boston and NASAâs Johnson Space Center in Houston , Texas. In Washington, D.C., he met with National Space Council head Scott Pace to talk about opportunities for collaboration in commercial space. During his visit, Gyimah spoke with Science about the United Kingdomâs withdrawal from the European Union, a topic that is causing a great deal of anxiety among U.K. scientists. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: You were a banker for Goldman Sachs after you studied philosophy, politics, and economics at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. What interest do you have in science?
A: Everyone whoâs rational should have an interest in science. The future of our planet depends on our understanding of science. â¦ Itâs something I value immensely.
Q: You voted âRemainâ in the referendum over Brexit. But now you are in a position of protecting U.K. science during the separation process. How difficult is that?< /strong>
A: I voted to remain because I thought it was costly and complicated to leave the EU, and that is clearly still the case. But there are opportunities and challenges.
Q: Several weeks ago, at the Universities U.K. conference, you told universities that this is not the time to âshrink back and sulkâ about Brexit, that universities need to âengage and lead in these debates.â What would you like them to do at this late stage?
A: Universities have a big role to play â¦ making it very clear to their counterparts, their networks, that the U.K. is not walking away from the world. We still value multilateral cooperation, we still see the EU as a significant partner.
Q: Your government wants to be an associated member of the European Unionâs premier research funding programs, Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe, like Norway or Switzerland, but with some influence over research priorities for the programs.
A: We will make a financial contribution and it will be significant. It will be larger than all the other associated members combined. â¦ In return for that, we ask for a number of things: that the focus of the programs is based on scientific excellence. â¦ If the framework programs become about building capacity and capability in other EU countries, then the focus goes away. â¦ We would [also] want our scientists to be involved in the decisions of some of the programs, the thinking behind some of the programs.
Q: Your government established the United Kingdom Research and Innovationâs (UKRIâs) Rutherford Fund to help attract young researchers from outside the United Kingdom. But there is evidenceâ"declines in graduate school applications for exampleâ"that non-U.K. scientists are seeing the United Kingdom as a less appealing destination. What else can you do to staunch brain drain?
Q: You have been upset over the European Unionâs stance that the United Kingdom will be shut out of future contracts for Galileo, the European Unionâs GPS system, even after pouring in more than Â£1 billion, and that you might not have access to its secure, military-grade signal elements. What leverage do you have to remain in the program?
A: The Galileo thing is incredibly frustrating. â¦ It doesnât look like the EU is going to change its mind based on where we are in negotiations. So we will do wh at any sovereign nation would do which has military interests to bear in mind and which needs access to this technologyâ"which is to look to produce our own version of it.
Q: Thatâs a colossal undertaking that takes billions of pounds and a decade of time. How credible could a U.K. effort be?
A: After building it weâve learned a lot of lessons along the way. Companies have learned how to do things faster. Itâll probably be less complicated than one thatâs built to the spec of 28 different countries. What we want to be post-Brexit is nimble, agileâ"and this is one area where we can prove that.
Q: During recent Brexit negotiations in Austria, European leaders made it clear that withdrawal would not be easy. The European Council president said that Mayâs current plan for a new relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom âwill not work.â And French President Emmanuel Macron had a harsh m essage for Brexiteers. He said, âThose who explain that we can easily live without Europe, that everything is going to be all right, and that itâs going to bring a lot of money home, are liars.â What do you say in response to that, to the scientists you are supposed to be advocating for? Are they going to be all right?
A: Theyâre going to be all right, and weâre going to do everything to make sure that post-Brexit, the U.K. is a go-to place for science and innovation. Weâre proving that by increasing investment in science to record levels. â¦ Itâs neither in our interest nor the EUâs for there not to be a deal. I think cool heads will prevail.
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Source: Google News United Kingdom | Netizen 24 United Kingdom