Report: What do researchers want in a post-Brexit world?

Survey by Elsevier and Ipsos MORI reveals that securing funding and continued freedom of movement are high on academics’ wish lists

Brexit survey demographics main image
Researchers from around the world were interviewed for this online survey.

As the UK prepares to leave the European Union, Elsevier has partnered with one of the world’s largest research agencies, Ipsos MORI, to gauge the reactions of more than 2,000 researchers worldwide.

The resulting report – Brexit: Global researchers’ views on opportunities and challenges provides insight into their opinions and aspirations. It was published today.

While the study found that overall, researchers expect Brexit to have a negative impact on the research sector, it also highlights their support for strategies to maintain a vibrant UK/EU research environment in a post-Brexit world.

Nick Fowler, PhD“Being aware of researcher preferences for specific actions in response to Brexit within three broad categories – funding, mobility and collaboration – is important to help guide informed decision making,” said Dr. Nick Fowler, Elsevier’s Chief Academic Officer. “While it’s not surprising that researchers have concerns around the implications of Brexit, this study offers policymakers in academia and government, both within and outside the UK, insights into researchers’ preferences.”

Download the report

Download the reportBrexit: Global researchers’ views on opportunities and challenges is also available to download from Elsevier’s Brexit Resource Centre. The centre was launched in 2016 to help monitor the effects of Brexit on the global research community. It contains a wealth of data, metrics and other resources, including a UK research factsheet, social media and media monitoring and top downloaded articles. You will also find the recently published report International Comparative Performance of the UK Research Base, 2016 , which was prepared by Elsevier for the UK's Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

Securing funding

UK-based researchers want research funding to be a key priority for their government: 90 percent suggested that the UK government should replace any European research funding lost to UK institutions post Brexit. A similar proportion of UK-based researchers want the UK government to secure continued access to Horizon 2020 grants for UK research institutions (87 percent), a view that is supported by more than half of EU-based researchers (52 percent). Globally, 54 percent of researchers support the idea of creating a new, global research body similar to the European Research Council.

UK-based researchers say sourcing funding opportunities should be a key priority for the UK government.

Maintaining mobility

When it comes to cross-border mobility, 90 percent of UK-based researchers want the UK government to retain the current free movement policy for EU researchers wishing to work in the UK. Support for this policy is also very strong elsewhere – 80 percent of EU researchers and 70 percent of non-EU researchers agree. In addition, 72 percent of researchers globally would like to see simplified procedures for visa and British citizenship applications for EU research staff.

Cross-border mobility is something many researchers are keen to see maintained.

Promoting collaboration

Two out of three researchers (66 percent) want the UK government to maintain or create bilateral research collaboration with EU countries, and 69 percent want collaborations to be created with countries outside the EU.

The creation of collaboration opportunities is important to 66 percent of researchers.

The role institutions can play

Researchers were also asked to comment on the actions academic institutions can take to support academia post-Brexit. Nearly half of UK-based researchers (49 percent) chose partnering with EU universities to ensure cross-border collaboration as one of their three top priorities. 47 percent also favour asking their institute to offer legal assistance to EU staff, and cover the fees associated with their visa applications and residence requests. EU-based researchers are also keen to see their institutions partnering with UK universities (45 percent).

Andrew Johnson“A sense of uncertainty over what happens next and the implications for the EU and UK research community regarding Brexit has been evident for some time,” said Andrew Johnson, Director of Social Research at Ipsos MORI, who worked on the report alongside Elsevier’s Customer Insights team. “What is more urgently discussed now are solutions and actions which mitigate against risk. Researchers clearly have views on this which deserve careful consideration.”

Other key findings

  • 46 percent of UK-based researchers report that they’re seeing a decrease in the number of EU researchers applying for positions at their institute, and 39 percent report that they’ve seen an increase in EU colleagues leaving the UK.
  • 40 percent of UK-based researchers say their institutes are applying for fewer EU-funded grant applications and that they’re receiving fewer requests from EU researchers to collaborate on projects.
  • 69 percent of UK-based researchers think Brexit will be negative for the EU in general, but this has fallen by 13 percentage points since the May phase of the survey.

About the survey

The survey was conducted online. It was informed by qualitative interviews with researchers and research leaders and aimed to answer questions concerning Brexit suggested directly by the research community in a quantitative format.

The survey was carried out in two waves: May and October 2017. Each survey included 25+ questions and each had more than 2,000 respondents globally. The findings cited here are based on the October 2017 study. A total of 2,170 interviews were conducted among UK-based (1,242), EU-based (452) and globally-based (476) researchers. (See the chart at the top of this story for the demographics.)

Fieldwork was conducted online between 29 September and 17 October 2017 using a random selection of respondents from Elsevier’s Scopus database. The sample was profiled by country and subject speciality. The UK-based population was purposefully oversampled to be robust. Data were weighted to be reflect the OCED distribution of researchers by geography.


Written by

Adrian Mulligan

Written by

Adrian Mulligan

Adrian Mulligan is Research Director for Customer Insights at Elsevier. He has more than 20 years' experience in STM publishing, much of that time spent in research. He oversees research programs used to drive action in the business and to help shape Elsevier strategy. The Customer Insights team works in partnership with external groups to deepen understanding of the scholarly landscape across the industry. He has presented on a range of research-related topics at various conferences, including STM, ESOF, AAP, SSP, APE and ALPSP. Mulligan's background is in archaeology; he has a BA Honours degree and a master's of science from the University of Leicester. He also has a diploma in Market Research from the Market Research Society.
Written by

Alexandra Mitchell

Written by

Alexandra Mitchell

Alexandra Mitchell is a Research Manager with Elsevier’s Customer Insights team. She has been a part of Elsevier since 2011, bringing the voice of researchers into Elsevier’s strategy and enabling customer-centric decision making. Her areas of focus are in guiding Elsevier through the global competitive landscape, and span performance benchmarking and customer understanding. She has a Bachelor of Science degree focused in Biology from the University of Sheffield.


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