2016 September Inside OR

This edition of Inside OR has details of the entries for the President’s Medal which will be presented at OR58, with the full write-up appearing in a subsequent edition; Louise Maynard-Atem tackles one of the defining issues of our time – climate change – with an interesting look from the OR perspective of decision-support; Nigel Cummings writes up three of the main talks given at the highly successful Annual Analytics Summit; immediate past president Stewart Robinson’s leader article considers the ramifications for university funding post-Brexit; and Graham Rand pays tribute to Lyn Thomas (1946-2016) who was president of The OR Society for 1994-95.

Inside this issue


Brexit and the (OR) Academy


As I write, we are just four weeks on from the referendum that led to the decision for the UK to leave the EU. Following the political upheaval our thoughts are now turning to what this actually means for our day-to-day lives here in the UK. For my part, a significant element of these thoughts have focused on how Brexit will impact on academic life and higher education institutions. As you would expect, there are a number of potential impacts on OR.

Before going further, I apologise to our non-UK readers for discussing this seemingly local issue, but hope that you will still find it of interest. I also point out that I am writing this leader four weeks before you will get to read it, that is, you will have had twice as long as I have to understand the impact of Brexit. Hence, you will have to forgive any errors or omissions from my semi-historical account.

The impact of Brexit on higher education would seem to fall into three categories: students, staff and funding. An immediate impact from a student perspective will be on the attractiveness of the UK as a place to study for students from the remaining EU countries. At present, these students are subject to UK fee levels. Brexit could mean they will have to pay the higher overseas fee. With uncertainties about freedom of movement, EU based students may be put off applying to the UK and could (but may not) have travel restrictions placed on them.

For students outside of EU countries, will Brexit make the UK a less attractive place to study, given that it will no longer be an entry point for the EU? On the other hand, one colleague at Loughborough had a rather more optimistic view of the impact: might increased control on immigration (if that is what happens) lead to a loosening of restrictions for post-study work visas from non-EU countries? These restrictions have adversely affected recruitment of students from overseas in recent years. 

From an OR perspective, a reduction in non-UK students taking OR courses could have significant implications. With fewer students, academic OR groups may be forced to downsize, employers will struggle even more to find OR workers and there will be a reduced feed into OR PhD programmes. If this sounds rather too much like doom-and-gloom, remember that the impact remains uncertain and depends very much on the Brexit ‘deal’ that is reached. None of this may happen. Also, this is not an impact that is unique to academic OR groups. 

In terms of staff, UK universities are heavily reliant on staff from EU countries. Indeed, according to the Chartered Association of Business Schools ‘13 percent of academic business school staff are EU nationals.’ I imagine the proportion is very similar in other disciplines as well. Certainly, many UK-based OR academics are from EU countries. For academic OR to thrive it is important that we can continue to retain and attract the best staff. Whereas in the longer term it seems highly unlikely that there will be a significant change in our ability to employ EU staff, the shorter term uncertainty may make working in the UK seem less attractive. 

The final category of impact is on funding and more specifically research funding. At present EU policy is still to allow bids to EU funding from UK universities. But uncertainty about the future and how this will be organised may lead decision-makers to feel less inclined to fund UK-led bids. Other non-EU countries do have access to EU research funding, e.g. Switzerland, but we do not know what non-membership model the UK will adopt. If a proportion of the money that has flowed to the EU is diverted into UK research councils, then we may end up
with a similar, even better, level of access to funding. 

OR has not been a major consumer of EU research funds, but loss of this source of funding will impact on the research base if it is not replaced with something else. A task for the society’s new Research Panel will be to consider how this effect might be mitigated. The above probably explains why it is estimated that some 90 percent of academics voted to remain; but the decision did not go that way. Of course, OR has a strong focus on planning for, influencing and adapting to the future. We are, therefore, more than able to rise to the challenges that lie ahead. Whatever your opinion on the Brexit decision, our role now should be to work towards a positive future for the OR academy and for OR in practice.

Front cover of Inside OR magazine September 2016

2016 September Inside OR

Climate Change and the Role of OR; Annual Analytics Summit 2016; Extending the scope of OR: Problem Structuring Methods; ISMOR 2016: OR and Defence; Latest Training Courses.

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