Chemical engineering importance highlighted in Brexit summit

Article by Amanda Doyle

FORMER IChemE president Geoffrey Maitland has spoken to MPs about the impact of Brexit on chemical engineering, at the Brexit: Science and Innovation Summit.

The summit, held on 22 February at the Institution of Civil Engineers' HQ in London, was split into three parts: people, funding and collaboration, and regulation. The panel sessions were hosted by MPs, and 16 representatives working in science and engineering took part in the sessions. Maitland spoke at the funding and collaboration session on behalf of the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) and IChemE, highlighting the work of IChemE's Brexit Working Group and recent member survey on Brexit.

The survey found that 82% of respondents supported free movement for all engineering professionals, and that there should be mutual recognition of qualifications between the UK and EU27 post-Brexit. More than 50% felt that recruitment of replacement chemical engineers to their organisation would be more difficult in the event of non-UK-born EU workers leaving the UK. The impact on R&D spending was also revealed to be a top concern, with 67% saying that it would have a strong negative impact on academia, 52% saying it would have a strong negative impact on industry, and 37% saying it would have a strong negative impact on the public sector.

Maitland said: “Respondents to the IChemE Brexit survey identified fiscal incentives and access to the single market as the preferred government policies to encourage R&D spending in the UK following Brexit. A majority favoured continued participation in Horizon 2020, an EU research and innovation programme, whilst just under half were currently involved in an EU-funded project."

“Continuing collaboration of some sort with EU research and innovation programmes is crucial along the entire research and innovation pipeline, from academic research to high TRL demonstrators. This is not only about funding, of course, but also about access to people, knowledge, ideas and facilities, all of which facilitate innovation from research idea to commercial reality. This applies both to SMEs, where funding not readily available in the UK can be obtained to make them grow to the stage where they require equity investment, and to large international companies where industrial competitors can collaborate on high cost, high risk cross-border initiatives involving multi-country supply chains."

“It is important to realise that many of the benefits of EU funding are not intrinsically financial but arise from the availability, easy exchange, and movement of smart people.”

Norman Lamb MP concluded the summit:

“I was very keen that the committee should be facilitating this sort of discussion, particularly at the critical stage. Let’s keep the pressure up for an early agreement on the critical issues that affect science – primarily people, which is of such importance. We should not take them for granted, and early agreement on the participation and success of Horizon 2020 is incredibly important for people planning research projects in the here and now."

IChemE's Brexit survey findings are on the IChemE website and IChemE members interested in joining the Brexit Working Group should contact

Article by Amanda Doyle

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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