Fri, Jan 27, 2017 - Page 9 News List

Post-Brexit London’s fate as cultural and financial center

The UK capital perhaps felt the greatest shock when Britain voted to leave the EU. Will the impending split really be ‘economic self-sabotage’ for London, or will the city’s status as a cultural and business leader remain intact?

By Tom Campbell  /  The Guardian

RESEARCH AND EDUCATION

London is Europe’s undisputed center for research and learning. There are almost 400,000 students at the capital’s 40 universities and educational institutes, giving a combined turnover of more than £7 billion.

Its art and design colleges are renowned across the world, while in the area of life sciences, London’s dominance was cemented with the recent opening of the Francis Crick Institute in King’s Cross, which, when fully operational, will employ more than a thousand scientists and become the largest biomedical laboratory in Europe.

Former Goldsmiths College warden and University of London vice chancellor Geoffrey Crossick attributes London’s success as resting on “its ability to benefit from the UK’s global reputation and augment it with very high quality university institutions as well as some world-leading specialist arts institutions. Something special was then added: The fact that London was seen as one of the world’s most culturally exciting, cosmopolitan and multicultural cities.”

For Crossick, the decision to leave the EU is a major blow to London’s higher education sector; 90 percent of those employed in British universities were thought to have backed Remain.

Once again, immigration is a crucial issue. As many as a quarter of students in London are non-British, generating significant revenues for universities, with many research students drawn from EU countries. The regulation of student visas was a fraught political battle when British Prime Minister Theresa May was home secretary, which has reached greater intensity as reducing immigration becomes central to government policy.

However, the more immediate threat relates to research.

Modern academic research is an inherently collaborative activity and increasingly funded through transnational programs. EU funding is especially important — the Horizon 2020 program, which covers science and innovation, will allocate some £70 billion between 2014 and 2020.

The UK has been a substantial net beneficiary of such funding — particularly in London universities, with Imperial College and University College London both in the European top 10 in terms of grant revenues, between them delivering well over 300 EU-funded projects at any one time.

Following widespread concerns, the chancellor announced that successful UK applications to current EU programs will have their grants underwritten by the government. However, the future is uncertain, and depending on the UK’s future status in the EU, its leadership role risks being lost.

London-based institutes have been at the forefront not only of undertaking research, but also of shaping strategies and determining funding competitions.

As Crossick points out, academic colleagues in Europe do not see Brexit as an opportunity for their own institutions — rather, they are anxious that “the quality of European research as a whole will suffer from the loss of UK researchers and the UK research environment.”

SILICON ROUNDABOUT

In recent years, the “silicon roundabout” of Old Street and the wider east London area has grown into Europe’s largest technology cluster. Some 40,000 technology businesses — one fifth of the UK total — are thought to be based in inner London, and the city is rated the best environment for digital start-ups in Europe, with levels of venture capital activity higher than anywhere outside of the US.

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