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Friday 9 August 2019 - 20:00

Johnson’s pill on UK brain drain: Is it a case of ‘too little, too late’?

Story Code : 809819
Confused Boris
Confused Boris
Johnson reassured skeptics this week that he will abolish immigration restrictions on top scientists to counter claims that the leave vote was anti-immigration, but is this a case of ‘too little, too late’?

“We were home to the world’s first national DNA database, we discovered graphene, and our cutting-edge scientists should be proud to follow in the footsteps of titans like Ada Lovelace and Nobel laureates Francis Crick and Peter Higgs,” Johnson said, but failed to provide details of his proposed new criteria.

The vague plan, however, was met with ridicule by academics, including the very discoverer of graphene, Nobel prize-winning physicist, Prof Sir Andre Geim.

“The government may try and reduce the barriers to entry for scientists but they cannot reduce (the) turmoil that would be caused to science in the UK by a no-deal Brexit. Scientists are not fools. They know that turmoil is inevitable for many years,” Geim said.

He went on to say that his fellow Nobel laureate, Prof Sir Konstantin Novoselov, had left their base in Manchester, where the pair discovered graphene, after the 2016 vote to leave the EU. “I think that tells you everything you need to know,” he added.

Other instances of high-profile scientists leaving the UK because of visa issues include a postdoctoral researcher in pathology, Fengying Liu, who was recruited to Oxford’s Sir William Dunn School of Pathology in October last year but left her post after the Home Office refused a visa for her 22-month-old child.

Moreover, evidence has revealed that the uptake of tier 1, exceptional talent, visas was low last year, meaning the cap was never being reached.

Despite the UK already having a system for fast-tracking some foreign science professionals into specific roles – such as biological scientists, biochemists, physical scientists, and social and humanities scientists, including archaeologists – more academics are taking a deeper look at the possible outcome of Brexit and whether to call the UK their home.

If a nation wants to attract, and retain, a greater number of academics, it needs to support economic growth. Under Johnson’s commitment to go through with Brexit, particularly if it means a no-deal with the EU, his promise to prevent a brain drain and capture the most-talented and educated workers from other countries is bound to fail.
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