30 June 2016

Young engineers ask MPs about the impact of Brexit

Links Day 2016

Seven young chemical engineers represented the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) at the Houses of Parliament this week, to discuss ‘Science After the Referendum: What Next?’ at Parliamentary Links Day.

The engineers; Salma Bello, EDF Energy, Jack Melton, Atkins, Kieran Channon, Hydrodec Group, Margarita Vera, Southern Water, Myrice Palor, GlaxoSmithKline, Daniel Ehandi, University of Manchester, and Sebastian Gonzalo, Imperial College London, were all chosen by the Institution as outstanding chemical engineers in the early stages of their career – representing the future of the profession.

In the wake of the Referendum result, Links Day had a record turn-out of scientists and engineers all keen to discuss the impact of Brexit on their community and work. Prior to Friday’s result a survey by the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) revealed that 93% of scientists were in favour of ‘Remain’. Similarly an IChemE survey conducted in March revealed 75% of 1,000 chemical engineers surveyed would want to stay in the EU.

Sebastian Gonzato, a chemical engineering student at Imperial College London asked: “The UK is the second biggest beneficiary of EU funding for science, but also spends less of its GDP on R&D compared to other EU countries. As we are relying on the EU for a significant part of our funding, how will Brexit affect this?”

Jo Johnson MP, Minister for Universities and Science, and Rt Hon John Bercow MP, Speaker of the House of Commons, reassured delegates that science, engineering and technology would still be as important to the UK economy as it is today.

Mr Speaker, John Bercow MP, said; “Science is fundamental to our country’s future”.

Johnson added; “As a scientific community we need to work to minimise the negatives of Brexit, and maximise the opportunities. International collaboration is going to be increasingly important, but rest assured British science and innovation will evolve.”

Daniel Ehandi, an EU national from Estonia and a chemical engineering student at University of Manchester asked: “How will the referendum affect the education of future EU engineering students? Would this have any effect on the UK industries, as possibly less engineers are graduating?”

Echoing similar concerns, as Executive Dean of Engineering at the University of Surrey, IChemE’s President, Professor Jonathan Seville asked “What message do we send to EU nationals that will reassure them that they will be welcomed by the UK, and that we still are an attractive place to come to?”

Nicola Blackwood MP, House of Commons Science & Technology Select Committee Chair, made it clear that the scientific community needed to understand the public worry of immigration, and communicate the importance of immigration to growth and the beneficial effects.

She called for “a more flexible interpretation of free movement – a 21st century policy on immigration – especially in the science sector”, adding; “we need to make sure we shout loud above the noise - Britain remains open for business and is still a science superpower to be reckoned with.”

In the two discussion panels that followed, the first ‘Science and Europe’ chaired by Stephen Metcalfe MP, continued on the subject of funding.

Sarah Main, Director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, reminded delegates that a fifth of EU funding is spent on science and innovation – and it was vital that the science community had a “seat at the negotiation table.”

Imran Khan, Chief Executive of the British Science Association agreed, but commented that in order for the science community to be heard, it needed to change the way it communicated the value of science to the public. He said: “We need to come to terms with the fact science isn’t a big deal for most people, and we need to start promoting science as part of British culture.”

‘Science and the World’ panel chaired by Nicola Blackwood MP focused on maintaining Britain’s international links.

Blackwood stressed; “The value international academics bring to the UK is ever more important as we try to find a way ahead after Brexit.”

This was echoed by the Royal Society of Chemistry’s CEO Dr Robert Parker, who stressed the importance of collaborating internationally, and ensuring that diversity, inclusion and tolerance would be essential in negotiations.

Myrice Palor, Graduate Chemical Engineer at GlaxoSmith Kline (GSK) asked: “Is this an important time to counter divisions in the UK? Another Scottish Referendum is on the horizon, and as a country don’t we need to be united?”

Carol Managhan MP, SNP, was keen to point out that Scotland didn’t vote for Brexit, and a second independence referendum may not be too far away.

The event was bought to a close by Lord O’Neill of Gately, Commercial Secretary to HM Treasury, Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, President of The Royal Society, and Stephen Metcalfe MP, with a resounding agreement to continue investing in science and technology, reaching out internationally, and “to keep calm and carry on.”

My IChemE

IChemE is a registered charity in England & Wales (214379), and a charity registered in Scotland (SC 039661).