Brexit Vote Will Likely Cause Problems for UK Fishers

Fishers were part of the “Leave” push, but it may not work out as they’d hoped.

The United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union in last week’s “Brexit” referendum will have profound effects on how fisheries are managed in both the UK and the EU. For now, it’s unclear exactly what those effects will be. But most experts agree that leaving the EU will be bad for both fishermen and fish stocks.

“It will be complicated and probably quite disastrous,” says Michel Kaiser, a marine conservation ecologist at Bangor University in Wales. Read more in Hakai.

Winners and losers emerge in UK funding shake-up

Government’s ‘global challenges’ fund hoovers up extra cash for developing-world problems, cutting grants elsewhere.

Funds dedicated for research on developing-world problems will eat into the core science grants of the United Kingdom’s research councils over the next five years, documents released by the councils show.

After enduring years of flat funding, scientists had celebrated in November as the government committed to increasing science spending, rather than delivering the cut many had feared was imminent.

But although the science budget – which in 2016 will be £4.7 billion (US$7.1 billion) – will rise in line with inflation, some of it will be diverted into government-defined research programmes. The remaining portion – the ‘responsive-mode’ allocation that the research councils hand out on the basis of competitive applications from scientists – will not rise. Read more in Nature.

Nurse review paves way for merger of UK research councils

Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society, has called for an overarching body to encompass all the UK’s research councils in a long-awaited review released last week.

A review of the UK’s research funding system has recommended tighter integration of the country’s seven discipline-specific research councils under a single, new umbrella organisation that would oversee all government research funding in the country.

Paul Nurse, the president of the Royal Society, published his long-awaited report on Nov 19. He recommends that the councils’ current umbrella body, Research Councils UK, be replaced with one that has direct responsibility for the councils, and a single chief executive who would be the sole point of contact between the councils and the government. The new, more powerful overhead organisation, which he suggests should be called Research UK, “can support the whole system to collectively become more than the sum of its parts”, states Nurse in his report, by strengthening their voice in government, taking responsibility for cross-council strategy, and reducing the administrative burden on each council, allowing them to focus on their own research areas. Read more in The Lancet.

BMA votes to end investment in fossil fuels

The British Medication Association set an international precedent with a vote to end its investment in fossil fuel companies. The motion also urged the BMA to switch its electricity supply to renewable sources and to help create an alliance of health care bodies to promote the health benefits of reducing greenhouse gasses. Read more in CMAJ.

Women and minorities still face uphill struggle in UK science

Campaign group suggests ‘quick wins’ to begin levelling the playing field.

Even with the government’s attempts to increase the representation of women, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities in science and mathematics, progress in the United Kingdom has remained too slow, according to a report published today by a UK non-profit organization.

“Looking back over the past five or six years, there has been lots of effort directed at increasing diversity, but not the huge step-change people were hoping for,” says Sarah Main, director of Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) in London, which released the report. Read more in Nature.

Judgement day

Many governments are assessing the quality of university research, much to the dismay of some researchers.

Two years ago, academics at Lancaster University, UK, found themselves in the uncomfortable position of being graded. They each had to submit the four best pieces of research that they had published in the previous few years, and then wait for months as small panels of colleagues — each containing at least one person from outside the university — judged the quality of the work. Those who failed their evaluations were offered various forms of help, including mentoring from a more experienced colleague, an early start on an upcoming sabbatical or a temporary break from teaching duties.

The university did not undertake this huge exercise just to make sure that the researchers were pulling their weight. The assessment was a drill to prepare for the Research Excellence Framework (REF), a massive evaluation of the quality of research at every university and public research institute in the United Kingdom, which is set to take place in 2014. Read more in Nature.

BIS axes annual survey of industry R&D

Last one shows UK corporate spending holds up in recession.

The government will no longer produce its annual R&D Scoreboard, which analyses R&D spending among the top 1,000 UK and top 1,000 global corporate investors in R&D. The latest edition, which analyses corporate R&D spending in 2009, will be the last.

“While this useful tool has helped us to track progress on investment, both domestically and overseas, today’s companies better understand the importance of R&D to their long-term success. At the same time, unprecedented financial pressures have made it necessary to reduce public spending,” science minister David Willetts wrote in the foreword to the report. Read more in Research Fortnight.

Is industry walking away from academia?

Recession-hit companies scale back university liaison offices.

Universities could find it more difficult to find industry research partners as hi-tech companies look to scale back or close their academic liaison departments in the wake of the financial crisis.

The defence technology company QinetiQ, spun out of the government’s Defence Evaluation and Research Agency in 2001, has closed its central academic liaison department. And within the past few months, the mobile telecoms company Vodaphone has moved its academic cooperation work into a single office in Germany. Previously, academic liaison was handled by a team scattered across different countries including Germany, the UK and Spain. Read more in Research Fortnight.

LibDem grassroots wait and see on science

Liberal Democrat activists at the party’s conference in Liverpool have adopted a ‘wait and see’ attitude to the coalition’s science policy.

“I think the jury’s still out,” Ken Cosslett, chairman of the Association of Liberal Democrat Engineers and Scientists told Research Fortnight. “But we will definitely be discussing it at our AGM on Wednesday.”

After winning the support of many scientists in the election campaign, when the Liberal Democrats were seen to have the best science policy of the three main parties, opinion has swung away in recent weeks as the reality of big cuts to the science budget begin to hit home. Cosslett says the association is concerned about how much influence the party is having in the coalition. Read more in Research Fortnight.