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House of Commons Science and Technology Committee - Brexit Science and Innovation Summit

The House of Commons Science and Technology committee launched an inquiry into Ocean Acidification. Details of the inquiry can be found on the committee website.

The submission produced by the Geological Society can be found below:

Submitted 1 February 2018

1. The Geological Society (GSL) is the UK’s learned and professional body for geoscience, with over 12,000 Fellows (members) worldwide. The Fellowship encompasses those working in industry, academia, regulatory agencies and government with a broad range of perspectives on policy-relevant science, and the Society is a leading communicator of this science to government bodies, those in education, and other non-technical audiences.

2. In writing this response we have drawn on comments and submissions from our members and internal committees at the Geological Society and the wider geoscience community over the past 18 months.

Science and Research

3. For the science and research sector, uncertainty is the single biggest issue. This includes uncertainty around access to or replacement of funding, the rights of EU citizens in the UK and the rights of UK citizens working abroad as well as the future of cross-border and multi-institutional programmes. The ongoing uncertainty in the sector is having a number of impacts on current projects, retention of research staff and recruitment as well as future planning for research projects in the UK.

4. Leaving the EU has a particular impact on the geoscience sector because of the inherently cross-border nature of our science. The geosphere, and the aim of understanding the processes therein, does not stop at national borders and thus leaving the EU has important implications for geoscience research. In addition to the many teams that work across borders on transnational projects, there is also the critical aspect of field work in geoscience: students and researchers must travel to the site of the required data or samples to carry out learning and research. Geoscience, unlike other sciences such as Physics and Chemistry, is distinctive in being characterised by a high degree of idiographic research (that is, research which is to some extend restricted in time and space - focusing on a geological site or a period in Earth history, for example) and so data and sample collection must often occur at the location the rock is found in the crust, for example. For this reason, travel restrictions and any loss of EU funding for cross-border projects is likely to have a particularly significant impact on geoscience research.

5. We welcome the recent announcements of the Government's target to reach R&D expenditure of 2.4% of GDP across the economy over the next ten years and the focus on science and innovation in the recently published Industrial Strategy. However, there is uncertainty in the sector about how this will operate in practice. Geoscience, along with other areas of science, receives a significant amount of key funding, particularly on cross-border projects and research initiatives, which are at risk from the referendum result. Particularly important funding streams for the geoscience sector are the Horizon 2020, EU Innovative Training Networks (ITN) and the European Research Council (ERC) funding streams. The EU is also the main funding source for a number of cross-border projects such as CO2 GeoNet (the European Research Laboratory on CO2 geological storage), INTEGER which works to effect gender equality in research and the Fixed Point Open Ocean Observatory network which seeks to integrate European open ocean fixed point observatories. These are inherently cross-border initiatives which would be difficult to replicate from a UK-only position. The geological storage project is of particular importance: since the cancellation of the Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) commercialisation competition in the UK in 2015 the EU is now the main source of funding for research and commercialisation projects on CCS. This is particularly pertinent in light of the recent re-focus on Carbon Capture Usage and Storage in the government’s Clean Growth Strategy published at the end of 2017. A process and financial framework needs to be established to enable UK researchers to continue their participation in these important and essentially international projects.

6. Leaving the EU also puts the UK's involvement in large-scale interdisciplinary multi-institutional projects that are initiated with EU funding streams at risk. This could limit the scope of expertise that is brought in on collaborative projects. Examples of large-scale projects in geoscience include the International Seismological Centre (ISC), which is currently based in the UK, the European Plate Observing System (EPOS) and the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) of which the European Consortium for Ocean Research Drilling (ECORD) is a key sponsor and platform provider. ECORD sponsorship provides members (including the UK through the Natural Environment Research Council) the opportunity to participate in all activities of the IODP programme which has been a very successful cross-border research initiative.

7. The International Seismological Centre (ISC), a case study in the value of cross-border geoscience research projects: The ISC, currently located in the UK, provides a unique global service by collecting together reports of earthquakes from many different national and academic agencies all over the world, and compiling them so that readings from different countries for the same earthquake can be collected together. It produces definitive summaries of global seismicity; relevant for geoscience research, assessment of earthquake hazard for protection of population and building critical facilities as well as for studies in monitoring compliance with the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The ISC is financially supported by 64 institutions in 48 countries with data arriving from 150 agencies in ~100 countries. Hosting the ISC is a matter of prestige for the UK, since the ISC, now fifty years old, has its roots in the work of the pioneering UK seismologist John Milne, who collected earthquake information from international observatories in the 1900s and distributed a bulletin. The data are freely available, widely used and have a high economic and political importance. The nature of the research means that the ISC employ a number of EU nationals who would be at considerable risk if freedom of movement was revoked. The decision to leave the EU is already having a significant impact on staffing and appointments. For the last two rounds of staff recruitment for permanent positions at the ISC there has been no applications from EU citizens residing outside the UK. This is a significant shift: prior to the referendum, the majority of the applications came from the EU. 37% of existing staff have EU passports but anecdotal evidence suggests that the decision to leave the EU is causing many employees to consider seeking alternative employment outside the UK. At the same time, changes in the UK’s Immigration Rules around the UK’s skilled migration category ‘Tier 2’ have resulted in a tightening of application criteria which has made it more difficult to hire from outside the UK. This is an area that was recently flagged as an area of concern by the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE), of which the Geological Society is a member. This is after a number of doctors who received job offers to work in the NHS were refused visas in the last two months because the Tier 2 cap has been exceeded and so the salary threshold for entry has been raised. You can see more details on this issue in CaSE’s statement on their website:

8. Damage to cross-border working relationships can occur very rapidly but the workload required in re-establishing lost contacts and working partnerships can be enormous and time-consuming. The prevailing uncertainty will make it difficult to maintain and grow these relationships even if collaboration agreements between EU and the UK are eventually negotiated. It is essential that short term damage to working relationships is kept to a minimum so as to reduce the amount of time and effort that may be required to rebuild these links and networks.

9. Linked to potential loss of funding is the significant uncertainty around EU funded post-doctoral exchange schemes. This ongoing uncertainty is making it difficult to recruit excellent junior scientists to apply for Fellowships such as the Marie Curie programme in the UK. There are many EU Nationals in the UK who are employed as part of these schemes and there is real uncertainty for these individuals who are concerned about their future and the security of their employment.

10. As a professional qualification-awarding organisation, there is uncertainty around how EU-wide professional standards and interoperability will be maintained. We will continue to work with our partners at the European Federation of Geologists to deliver the European Geologist professional title and to develop and maintain Mutual Recognition Agreements to ensure that UK Chartered Geologists are appropriately recognised in Europe and elsewhere, but there is a risk of divergence in professional standards due to leaving the EU.

11. There will also be an impact on organisations such as the British Geological Survey (BGS) but it is difficult to predict what these might be. In particular the leading role the BGS has played in the EuroGeoSurveys programme could be detrimentally affected. This is a membership programme made up of national geological surveys across Europe which provide European institutions with expert, neutral and practical pan-European advice and information in areas such as natural resources, natural hazards and environmental management. It is also involved in the development of interoperable and harmonised geoscientific data at the European scale and access to geoscientific metadata and data. Such cooperation is vital, irrespective of the UK's membership of the EU, as natural hazards and environmental phenomena do not respect national boundaries. There is a danger that BGS's leading role in EuroGeoSurveys could be diminished as a result of the outcome of the referendum and UK influence could be reduced.

Immigration Policy and Travel Restrictions

12. The ongoing uncertainty around the final arrangements for movement across the Irish border could also have implications for cross-border projects and initiatives, particularly if the outcome is the instatement of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Initiatives such as the Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark, a cross-border Geopark in County Fermanagh, could experience significant disruption to the movement of visitors and tourists around the park in the event of increased border control and customs checks. Changes in border mobility could also imperil successful cross-border surveys and research projects. The Tellus Project was a cross-border surveying project using airborne geophysics and ground-based geochemistry to produce maps that assisted with the management of both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland’s environment and natural resources. This type of project would be more difficult and complicated to run if there were significant restrictions to freedom of movement across the Irish border. Any future divergence in regulation and the interoperability of data between the UK and the EU could also have an impact on cross-border projects between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

13. The ongoing uncertainty around future travel restrictions and immigration policy has particular impacts on the geoscience research sector, as well as more broadly across science and innovation. Any additional bureaucracy introduced to travelling within Europe will have unpredictable effects on researchers' ability to attend research conferences and collaborative meetings. It also poses issues for student exchange programmes such as Erasmus. Universities have been actively promoting internationalisation in their degree programmes, to the great benefit of both students and staff. A restriction of choice in the Erasmus programme would degrade the Higher Education experience for students, and steps should be taken to ensure that the UK continues to participate in these initiatives.

14. Additionally, field work is a significant and essential component of any undergraduate training and many UK undergraduate courses include several EU-based field trips during the course. Field work also forms an important component of data collection for the purpose of research. Uncertainty around travel restrictions and additional bureaucracy in moving around the EU will have a detrimental impact to the quality of learning and impede primary data collection in research. As reported in our responses to previous inquiries on immigration, we know that tightening of visa requirements and other restrictions on travel often prevent the uptake of degree programmes and participation in placements, conferences and other international activities.

15. Restriction of movement around the EU is also likely to have a negative impact on the diversity of the student and academic body across university departments. Greater diversity is something that has been flagged as a major aim in the new Higher Education Bill and the uncertainty around access to student funding will discourage many EU applicants even before the final terms have been agreed. This, along with the travel restrictions, could reduce the international exchange of ideas and opportunities for learning through discussion and collaborative working.

16. Anything that the government can do to reduce uncertainty, offer clarity and address negative perceptions across any or all of the aforementioned points would be very useful in addressing concerns and improving confidence in the sector, and reducing the potential impact of loss of talent and worsening external perceptions of the UK.