This just in in ‘sunlit uplands’ news: not a single person (not one!) has applied to a post-Brexit scheme to attract academics and other leading figures to the UK, and people are rolling their eyes.

In the six months since it opened in May, a visa route open to fast track Nobel laureates and other prize winners in science, engineering, humanities and medicine – enabling them to live and work in the UK without having to fulfil other criteria has drifted past like a tumbleweed, according to Freedom of Information requests submitted by New Scientist magazine.

The Home Office previously said the prestigious award route would “allow applicants who hold a qualifying prize to fast-track the endorsement application and instead make a single visa application”.

Home secretary Priti Patel also hailed it as a way of allowing “the best and brightest” to come to the UK. She said: “These important changes will give them the freedom to come and work in our world-leading arts, sciences, music, and film industries as we build back better. This is exactly what our new point-based immigration system was designed for – attracting the best and brightest based on the skills and talent they have, not where they’ve come from.”

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But it’s not exactly set the world alight. Reacting to the news, University of Manchester academic and Nobel prize winner for physics Andre Geim told the publication: “Chances that a single Nobel or Turing laureate would move to the UK to work are zero for the next decade or so.”

He added: “The scheme itself is a joke – it cannot be discussed seriously. The government thinks if you pump up UK science with a verbal diarrhoea of optimism – it can somehow become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

“Frankly, having precisely zero people apply for this elitist scheme doesn’t surprise me at all,” the magazine quoted Jessica Wade, a leading scientist at Imperial College London, as saying. “UK scientists’ access to European funding is uncertain, we’re not very attractive to European students as they have to pay international fees, our pensions are being cut and scientific positions in the UK are both rare and precarious.”

The shadow science minister, Labour’s Chi Onwurah, added: “It’s clear this is just another gimmick from a government that over-spins and under-delivers. It is not surprising that the government has failed so comprehensively to attract scientists from abroad, given their lack of consistent support for scientists here.”

The Home Office told New Scientist the programme makes it easier for those at the “pinnacle of their career” to come to the UK.

“It is just one option under our global talent route, through which we have received thousands of applications since its launch in February 2020 and this continues to rise.”


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