The people have decided: Britain has voted to leave the European Union (EU), and in the wake of this result lies uncertainty and unanswered questions.

Such is the effect not only on the country's plummeting financial economy, but to its scientific research programs as well.

"It's depressing, but the uncertainty doesn't help," says Research Director Philip Jones of the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit in England. He says he hopes science has not been forgotten amid all the ruckus.

Opposition From The Scientific Community

A previous survey revealed that scientists were among those who were most opposed to Brexit. Out of 907 active scientists in the UK, 83 percent were in favor of remaining.

One of those in favor of staying is famous astrophysicist Stephen Hawking who, along with 150 other fellows of the Royal Society, wrote a letter in March arguing that the departure will be a "disaster" for science.

In an interview with ITV's Good Morning Britain, Hawking mentioned several reasons as to why remaining in the EU would be good for the sake of economy, security and science.

He said remaining in the EU would promote a cultural exchange between countries through the transfer of students, bringing in a wide range of ideas from different backgrounds.

The EU also supported institutions with grants that foster and promote these interactions.

"Gone are the days when we could stand on our own, against the world," said Hawking.

How Brexit Will Affect Science

But now that Brexit is in effect, experts are concerned that the "divorce" between the UK and the EU could result to a "brain drain" of researchers in the country.

Brain drain often occurs when highly trained experts leave their country for better conditions and better pay.

Scientists say the brain drain could happen either because the funding for UK science would suffer, or because the separation from the EU would mean scientists lose their status in the UK and not feel welcome.

Myles Allen, an expert from the University of Oxford, says his main concern is the potential damage to the UK's reputation as a destination for top researchers.

He says scientists put a lot of emphasis on the ability to travel and recruit. If the changes from Brexit affect UK's ability to recruit "the best and brightest" academics, he believes the country is in trouble.

On the other hand, those who campaigned for "Leave" have attempted to reassure EU-based researchers that they will be made welcome. They say independence from the EU could offer the UK more freedom in international collaboration.

How Brexit Will Affect Higher Learning

Aside from brain drain, experts say that what is at stake is the European funding from UK's research universities, which equals to more than £1 billion (or $1.37 billion) every year.

This is a huge chunk of loss. Reports say research grants from the EU provided 16 percent of the funding for British universities, while more than 40 percent of the cancer research fund in the country also came from the EU.

But some scientists are optimistic. Allen says he is hopeful that the UK will come up with ways to weather Brexit in the months to come. He says academics do not always get to choose the issues and problems they have to solve.

"We have to address the new academic questions that are being raised by the current situation, rather than retreating," he adds.

Photo: Dave Kellam | Flickr

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