What Are the Long-Term Impacts of Brexit on UK’s Scientific Research Funding?

April 18, 2024

The United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union, popularly known as Brexit, has triggered a wide range of discussions among scholars, policymakers, and scientists. The implications of this move on various sectors, including scientific research funding, are indeed profound. This article will delve into the potential long-term impacts of Brexit on UK’s scientific research funding, considering key factors such as university collaboration, innovation, funding access, trade in research services, labour mobility, and data sharing.

Impact on University Collaboration and Innovation

Brexit has had a pivotal effect on how UK universities collaborate with their European counterparts. Pre-Brexit, the UK was a significant player in European research and innovation networks. The nation’s universities frequently partnered with European institutions, benefiting both in terms of knowledge exchange and funding. However, the post-Brexit landscape presents a different scenario.

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The withdrawal from the EU means that British universities are now third-country participants in the European research and innovation programmes. These programmes, including the prestigious Horizon 2020 and the upcoming Horizon Europe, have provided substantial funding for scientific research. The change in status could potentially limit UK universities’ access to such programmes, affecting collaborative efforts and innovation.

Moreover, the Brexit decision has caused significant uncertainty around the future of existing collaborations, which could adversely impact the performance of ongoing research projects. In a bid to avoid such scenarios, some universities have reportedly rushed to complete their research before the Brexit transition period, while others have sought to establish new partnerships outside the EU.

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Access to European Research Funding

The UK has always been a net beneficiary of the European research funding scheme. However, Brexit could drastically change this scenario. As per the Brexit agreement, the UK will continue to participate in certain EU programmes, including the Horizon Europe, Euratom Research and Training, and Copernicus. However, this comes at a cost.

The country will have to contribute to the EU budget and accept certain conditions, including adherence to the decisions of the European Court of Justice. The government has also announced that it will replace lost European funding with its own funds. However, uncertainty remains over the stability of such promises in the long term, especially given the economic pressures that Brexit is likely to generate.

Furthermore, the loss of influence on the decision-making panels that decide funding allocation is a significant impact. As a non-EU member, the UK will no longer have a say in shaping the future research agenda of these programmes, potentially compromising the country’s strategic and competitive position in international science funding.

Changes in Trade in Research Services

The impact of Brexit on the trade in research services is another crucial aspect to consider. The UK’s scientific research sector has been a substantial exporter of research services to the EU. However, Brexit might affect the ease of this trade due to potential changes in tariff and non-tariff barriers.

Additionally, the UK’s exit from the Digital Single Market will impact the cross-border data flows, which are vital for research purposes. The uncertainty over the UK’s data protection standards and its adequacy decision from the EU could potentially hinder data sharing, affecting research collaborations and services.

Labour Mobility and the Scientific Workforce

The free movement of scientists and researchers was one of the benefits of being part of the EU. This facilitated international collaboration, knowledge exchange, and fuelled innovation at UK universities. However, post-Brexit, this mobility faces obstacles.

The new points-based immigration system prioritises high-skilled workers but disregards the specific needs of the research community. Early career researchers and technicians, who play a crucial role in scientific research, may not meet the new system’s criteria, creating a talent vacuum that could negatively impact the UK’s research and innovation landscape.

Data Sharing and Security

Data sharing is a fundamental aspect of contemporary scientific research. Given the increasingly international nature of research, the ability to share data across borders is crucial for progress.

Brexit raises questions about the UK’s future data relationship with the EU. Despite the UK government’s intention to maintain high data protection standards, the country’s exit from the Digital Single Market could potentially disrupt data flows between the UK and EU.

These changes would not only affect the day-to-day operations of labs and research facilities but also pose significant challenges for large-scale, data-driven research projects. Scientists would need to navigate new legal and administrative frameworks for data transfer, potentially slowing down research and making international collaborations more complex.

Long-Term Predictions and Possible Strategies

While the precise long-term impacts of Brexit on the UK’s scientific research funding remains uncertain, experts have offered several predictions. Most agree that the impact of Brexit will be substantial and transformative.

The UK’s status as a global leader in research and innovation could be threatened by potential funding shortfalls, changes in university collaborations, restricted labour mobility, and altered data sharing and security protocols. The loss of influence over EU funding decisions and the potential increase in trade barriers could also dampen the UK’s strategic position in the global science sector.

In the short term, the UK government has pledged to offset EU funding losses with its own contributions. However, lingering uncertainty around these promises raises concerns about the long-term sustainability of this approach, particularly given the economic pressures that Brexit may impose.

Potential strategies for mitigating the impact of Brexit could include investing more in domestic science budgets, reforming the immigration rules to attract and retain global talent, and establishing new international partnerships beyond Europe. Fostering a more robust and independent scientific community within the UK could also help counteract any potential downturns.

Moreover, data collection, management, and sharing principles need to be clearly defined to maintain the integrity of scientific research. The UK government can take proactive measures to ensure data protection standards are upheld and establish a favourable data flow arrangement with the EU.


Brexit undeniably presents significant challenges to the UK’s scientific research funding. The post-Brexit landscape has ushered in a new era of uncertainty, affecting university collaboration, innovation, funding access, trade in research services, labour supply, and data sharing.

However, Brexit also offers a unique opportunity for the UK to reshape its scientific landscape. While it’s undeniable that the decision to leave the EU introduces new obstacles, it also invites creative solutions and structures. With strategic planning, collaboration, and investment, the UK’s scientific research sector can continue to thrive in the post-Brexit era.

In the long run, the success of the UK’s scientific research sector will depend on how effectively it navigates these challenges and exploits new opportunities to secure its future. As with the Brexit referendum itself, the path forward promises to be complex and filled with unknowns. However, with the right approaches, the UK can continue to be a global leader in scientific research and innovation.