Business secretary Vince Cable has spoken out in favour of opening up borders for scientists and technologists in the ongoing debate over the offshoring of IT skills.
Speaking at a Royal Society event yesterday, Cable was keen to highlight the benefits of openness and internationalisation of UK science.
“Lamenting the so-called ‘brain drain’ used to be a national sport. Nowadays, we should be actively encouraging ‘brain circulation’,” he said.
“It’s good for science – good for growth – when our researchers operate in a range of countries, building networks and identifying potential commercial applications linked to their work.”
On the flip side, foreign researchers who spend up to two years in the UK are often “highly productive” during their stay, Cable said.
“Our performance in technology-related sectors and industries can only gain from such international collaboration and exchange – and we’ve reformed the visa system accordingly,” he added.
To back his comments, Cable cited findings from a report by Elsevier, which found that UK researchers who spend more than two years working abroad before returning to the UK are the most productive.
Meanwhile, UK researchers affiliated with an overseas institution are, on average, 75 percent more productive than researchers without such a relationship, he said.
The UK government has been trying to revise its immigration policy to encourage researchers to become more mobile.
For example, in August 2011, it created a category under Tier 1 which allowed ‘exceptional scientists’ to come to the UK without having to secure a job offer first. It also introduced an exemption on the salary threshold for people taking PhD-level jobs as part of the skilled worker route, Tier 2, which aims to make it easier for researchers to settle in the UK.
In terms of international students, Cable said that “contrary to widespread belief overseas [there is] no cap on numbers”.
“Overseas talent is essential for a healthy research base, including via the undergraduate pipeline,” he said.
Making data available as freely as possible is also a key to driving growth in the UK’s science and technology sector, Cable said.
“Improving access to data will not only enhance transparency but fuel innovation, and we are just beginning to understand the potential of data mining to accelerate scientific breakthroughs and their translation into practical applications,” he said.
“While intellectual property must be protected, and commercial interests considered, it should be available with as few restrictions as possible.”
Cable added: “Outdated IP rules should not stand in the way of free flows of research. The government will soon be publishing the second part of its response to the recent consultation on copyright, which included the proposal to establish a copyright exception for text and data mining in non-commercial research.”