The surprise vote
The UK’s shocking Brexit vote was a bolt from the blue for most of the world, who had expected the vote to go by far the other way. It shocked even those who had been instrumental in backing it. Suddenly they found themselves heading one of the most difficult diplomatic situations imaginable from a political and financial perspective. Brexit has already resulted in many effects both forewarned and unforeseen, both short term and long term, both obvious and inconspicuous.
One of the less conspicuous results is the exodus of University-educated talent from the UK tech industry. Researchers, experts, industry leaders and new graduates alike are either planning to leave the UK for Europe or are eyeing up the opportunities Europe may provide for them.
One of the major reasons for this is that from the moment the Brexit result was annouced, European universities and institutions began declining to work with British establishments. This is because an awful lot of British research and innovation is funded by EU grants, and the projects run for a number of years in most cases. EU scientific establishments did not want to risk teaming up with a UK scientific entities who in two or three years time may see their EU funding disappear and become a burden. The UK government offered some vague promises about UK scientific research funding. But much depends on the results of the Brexit negotiations as to how much they can afford to give. The likelihood is that it will not be enough. The issue is, of course, far more complex than this but for the sake of this article not being published as a full novel it has been boiled down to its basics.
EU scientists waiting to be shown out
Another reason is that many of the senior researchers and academics in UK universities are EU nationals, and the Brexit vote threatened both their legal right to stay and the feeling of security they had living in the UK. For reference, there are over 5,200 Germans who make up 17% of UK university teaching and research posts. This is not just a drop in the bucket. Remaining in the UK is uncertain for these people. This has resulted in EU nationals in the UK reluctant to take up research posts or positions within the country. They just don’t know how long they will be here.
These two factors alone, out of a great many, mean that many UK research projects have no guarantee of funding in the long term, no partners in the short term, and a shortage of specialists to fill the posts. It’s not all bad news, though, as major centres of European academic research have sent a resounding message to the innovators, researchers, inventors and industry experts in the UK.
You are welcome here
This was no subtle message either. Literally weeks after the Brexit vote, adverts were run by German political groups on London buses that read ‘Dear startups, keep calm and move to Berlin’. This was the first shot in a mighty brain-grab as various European cities battled to try and attract British and EU talent who were leaving or thinking of leaving Britain’s shores. Berlin Partner, Berlin’s marketing agency, then ran an event in London where they showed British tech start-ups and experts what Berlin could offer them. In just sixth months from the vote, Berlin Partner had relocated 5 British tech startups to Berlin and were in the process of moving 40 more. These are important, as tech startups typically bring large amounts of revenue and academic excellence to the city in which they reside. Battling Berlin for British talent was Paris, Bern, Madrid, Lisbon, Amsterdam and most of all Dublin.
After the UK leaves the EU, Ireland will be the only EU state with English as its primary language and as a result it has massive pull to tech entrepreneurs and innovative experts. More than that, it already has a well-developed technology-based economy.
Paris’ big statement
Paris responded with quite possibly the biggest statement. Foregoing a message on a bus, they built an entire campus for start-ups and used it as a start-up incubator for foreign tech companies, with a particular focus on UK tech talent.
Even among British-born university students, many studying high-value technology-centric degrees such as Computer Science, Computer Network Technology, and Artificial intelligence are eyeing up more secure careers on the continent with chunkier wage packets and more integrated benefits.
The reason this tech talent and entrepreneurial focus is important for cities like Paris, Berlin and Dublin is that it’s very profitable. The UK’s digital tech industry made around £170 billion in 2015, is growing double the speed of the economy and contributes around £97 billion per year to the UK’s economy. It generated 85,000 jobs in 2015 and the UK has previously eclipsed all other European nations in terms of tech advancement. In 2016 tech advancement in the UK was £6.8 billion, and 2nd place France only peaked £2.4 billion.
The UK doesn’t so much have a slice of the golden tech pie as it does have an entire bakery, so the other European nations are sparing no expense to use Brexit as an opportunity to bait tech industry professionals to their own projects and cities. It doesn’t matter whether you voted Remain or voted Leave – the real winners were, and continue to be, major European tech hubs. For them Brexit was the Christmas that came early.