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Smith-Reid Review: ‘Prepare to justify costs of research funding’

University of London Staff Portraits PICTURE SHOWS :- University of London Staff Portraits

Long-awaited Smith-Reid paper sets out ‘new vision’ for post-EU research

The research sector’s long wait for the ‘Smith-Reid Review’ and its recommendations on what the government should do for research after Brexit is finally over.

The review, published today, sets out a “new vision” for research after the UK leaves the European Union, including rewards for universities that attract high amounts of foreign direct investment in R&D to the UK (see “Smith and Reid’s ‘new vision’ at a glance”). But it also warns that spending that has previously been hidden in payments to the bloc will now have to be justified.

“Until now, the cost to the UK of participation in EU research and innovation programmes has been met within the UK’s wider financial subscription to the EU. In future, these costs will need to be justified alongside competing demands for public spending,” say Adrian Smith (pictured) and Graeme Reid.

Reid and Smith were tasked with looking into international collaboration and funding after the UK leaves the EU.

Their review acknowledges the nervousness in the research world about the possibility that the UK might not sign up via “association” to the EU’s next R&D programme, Horizon Europe. Some of those they consulted were “apprehensive about even exploring contingencies”, they write.

Science minister Chris Skidmore said that the review would be considered carefully.

“Participating in Horizon programmes opens the door for businesses and research institutions to work with our European partners on the next big breakthroughs,” he said. “But we should also be looking beyond Europe and seeking new relationships around the world.”

John Womersley, director general of the European Spallation Source, said “I’m slightly disappointed that some of the more exciting and visionary ideas hinted at earlier by the authors, such as creating a UK-initiated international research council, didn’t make it to the final version, but I understand how that can happen. Nonetheless the report presents a cogent and well-argued analysis. I hope the science community can support much of what’s in here and doesn’t instinctively react negatively to the possibility that the UK may need to explore alternatives to association to Horizon Europe.”

If the UK does not associate, Reid and Smith dismiss the idea that there is a case for “sizeable levels of public spending on activities that replicate, line by line, EU research and innovation arrangements in the UK”. But they say there are “powerful arguments” for additional spending on “wider forms of international collaboration” in this scenario.

“Taken together, funding for stabilisation, protection and wider forms of international collaboration would be at about the same scale as this country has received in the past from participation in EU programmes—around £1.5bn per annum,” they say.

They recommend using Brexit as “stimulus for an exciting new vision for the UK”. This should include a push to meet or exceed the target to spend 2.4 per cent of GDP on R&D, linking up regional development spending with the Innovate UK funding agency, and “two major new funding streams”, one providing more quality-related funding, the other an “agility fund” for international funding.