Would the Brexit affect India
Venki Ramakrishnan is President of the Royal Society, one of Britain's major scientific organizations. His own career, like that of many top researchers, is international: Ramakrishnan once immigrated from India to the USA and then to the United Kingdom. Today he works in Cambridge. Ramakrishnan researches how ribosomes work, the protein factories in the body's cells. For this he received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2009. Ramakrishnan has repeatedly intervened in the Brexit debate - and warned of the serious consequences for researchers in Great Britain and universities.
SZ: You now have one under Boris Johnson Cabinet of staunch Brexit supporters. How concerned are you about this?
Venki Ramakrishnan: I am concerned in a general sense because a Brexit without an exit treaty with the EU would be a tough economic test for Britain. Science would also come under pressure and something would be at stake, which we have achieved together with EU partners. Boris Johnson now greatly increases the likelihood of a Brexit without a treaty, he has decided to leave the European Union on October 31st.
What would potentially harm UK science most in a hard Brexit?
That we are losing access to European funding programs. In addition, the possibility of many researchers from abroad to move around freely would be called into question. But we need this mobility in order to be able to work together across borders and bring scientists into the country. Both must now be ensured. But for us this remains only a second choice compared to previous cooperation in the EU.
Do these problems also affect universities that are at the forefront of the world, such as Cambridge and Oxford?
You have to differentiate between students and researchers. Tuition fees are quite high for citizens from non-EU countries. And these fees may rise - and EU citizens, who previously pay as much as locals, will then be treated like other foreigners. Researchers won't be as badly affected unless the government makes it difficult for them to get here. Anyway, it will work and it's hard to predict how.
Great Britain receives a lot of money from EU research programs. The new Johnson administration has now promised that it will replace possible failures. Do you trust this promise?
Well, in a sense. I hope these are sincere. But when economic problems are boiling up in many places and the government has to support so many other sectors, then the question is: can they help us? We fear that. But we also see that Boris Johnson mentioned science quite a lot in his inaugural address, more often than I've heard in many previous inaugural speeches from government leaders.
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And the promise to relax the visa rules for researchers?
One fear of Brexit is that the UK looks like it doesn't want to welcome talented people anymore. In that light, I welcome the government's announcement. But now it comes down to the details. We have to see that the largest group of talented foreigners here are from the EU. And most of our joint projects take place with EU partners. Better visa rules in and of themselves will not make up for the rifts that a hard Brexit will cause in science.
Have you already noticed a brain drain?
So far we only have anecdotal evidence - this professor has left the country, that one hasn't started a job in the UK, that sort of thing. We cannot yet identify a clear trend, at least so far we cannot speak of a mass movement.
German researchers at British universities say the climate for immigrants has changed: they have to take hostile comments on the street or at the border. Do you hear stories like that too?
There were really disgusting incidents right after the 2016 Brexit referendum. But even Theresa May's government at the time, which was hostile to immigration, tried strictly to stop such behavior. I myself am an American of Indian descent with dark skin, I have already been confronted with some prejudices, but that also happened to me in the USA, in India or in Germany. In Berlin, people looked at me strangely in the subway. Perhaps this is happening to Germans or other Europeans for the first time.
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