Scientists across the UK and the rest of Europe are nervously pondering the implications of the UK’s 23 June vote to leave the European Union (EU). The 52% to 48% decision raises huge questions regarding not only funding but also Europe’s ability to maintain the degree of openness and collaboration that has pushed the continent to the forefront of many fields of science.
“It is hard not to see Brexit as being extremely bad for science in the UK,” says biological physicist Athene Donald at the University of Cambridge.
Scientists were not among the demographics that were sharply divided on the referendum. A survey conducted in March by Nature found that 83% of UK researchers, including 80% of those who planned to vote, favored remaining in the union. Public letters cowritten by Nobel laureates, university leaders, and other prominent UK scientists touted the advantages of EU membership.
Britain gets plenty of bang for its science buck with the EU. From 2007 to 2013, the UK paid €5.4 billion ($6 billion) to fund EU science and received €8.8 billion in research funding. No other EU member state receives more grants from the European Research Council.
Now many researchers are worried about the financial impact to their institutions and projects, despite the recent pledge by political leaders of the Leave movement to maintain levels of EU funding for universities and scientists. Cambridge, for example, receives about a quarter of its research funding from EU grants, Donald says. In the referendum, 74% of the city’s electorate voted to remain…