LONDON (Reuters) - Britain must seek to protect research funding for its universities when it leaves the European Union or risk losing its leading role in innovation, one of the country's main employer groups said on Wednesday.
Britain should negotiate an "associated country" status which would allow it to continue to participate in EU research programmes once it is no longer a member of the bloc, the Confederation of British Industry said.
"Today EU schemes make up a sixth of our total research funding," Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the CBI, said.
"Replacing that would be a real challenge. But this isn't just about money – it is about international leadership and giving the UK a voice in setting standards," she added in excerpts of a speech she is due to deliver to universities.
The EU's main programme for funding research, technology and innovation is expected to provide an estimated 80 billion euros (73.10 billion pounds) in funding between 2014 and 2020 to countries within the bloc and beyond.
Prime Minister Theresa May's government was due to publish a Brexit position paper on science and innovation on Wednesday, setting out its stance for talks with the rest of the EU.
The Institute of Directors, another employers group, called on the government to continue making payments into the EU budget in order to maximise Britain's access to the bloc's research programmes, and for London to allow free movement of EU academics to reduce the risk of restrictions on its involvement.
(Reporting by William Schomberg, editing by David Milliken)