Time run­ning out for deal on postBrexit re­search

UK uni­ver­si­ties do­ing ‘in­ten­sive plan­ning’ for no-deal Brexit im­pact. John Mor­gan re­ports

THE (Times Higher Education) - - FRONT PAGE - John.mor­gan@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com

De­lays in strik­ing a Brexit agree­ment may leave the UK out­side the Euro­pean Union’s multi­bil­lion- euro re­search pro­gramme when it starts in 2021, while a no-deal exit could see Bri­tish re­searchers ex­cluded for the en­tire du­ra­tion of Hori­zon Europe, sec­tor lead­ers have warned.

The pos­si­bil­ity that the UK could leave the EU with­out a with­drawal agree­ment and a state­ment of in­tent on fu­ture trade re­la­tions has been given an ex­tra edge re­cently, with West­min­ster-Brus­sels talks hit­ting their rock­i­est pe­riod yet and Con­ser­va­tive Brex­i­teers in­ten­si­fy­ing their crit­i­cism of Theresa May’s strat­egy.

The UK’s mem­ber­ship of the cur­rent Hori­zon 2020 pro­gramme means that Bri­tish uni­ver­si­ties ben­e­fit from about £1.2 bil­lion a year in fund­ing, the abil­ity to join in­ter­na­tional re­search con­sor­tia funded by the pro­gramme and el­i­gi­bil­ity for highly pres­ti­gious Euro­pean Re­search Coun­cil grants.

Ms May has said that the UK “would like the op­tion” to be­come an as­so­ciate mem­ber of Hori­zon Europe, the next seven-year frame­work pro­gramme, in ex­change for a fee ex­pected to be be­tween € 1 bil­lion (£884 mil­lion) and € 2 bil­lion a year. But a no-deal Brexit could de­rail that. And even with a deal, there are fears that an as­so­ci­a­tion agree­ment may not be in place for the start of Hori­zon Europe in 2021.

Michael Arthur, pres­i­dent of UCL, said that any ap­pli­ca­tion by the UK for as­so­ciate mem­ber­ship in re­search af­ter a no- deal Brexit “would then be oc­cur­ring against the back­ground of more po­lit­i­cal dif­fi­culty”. There would be no guar­an­tee that an as­so­ci­a­tion agree­ment would be reached “and it would prob­a­bly take a lot longer” to reach one, he said.

There would be a “sig­nif­i­cant gap” in the UK’s frame­work pro­gramme par­tic­i­pa­tion of “prob­a­bly as much as a year” in such a sce­nario, Pro­fes­sor Arthur con­tin­ued.

But he also warned that “a gap could oc­cur even if there is an agree­ment” be­tween the UK and the EU on the wider Brexit deal.

Kurt Dekete­laere, sec­re­tary gen­eral of the League of Euro­pean Re­search Uni­ver­si­ties, agreed, point­ing out that the pro­posed

€ 94 bil­lion bud­get and rules of Hori­zon Europe are yet to be fi­nally agreed in the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment, and a UK-EU as­so­ci­a­tion agree­ment would take “eas­ily a year” to ne­go­ti­ate and draft af­ter that.

“Even if the UK were able to as­so­ciate to the frame­work pro­gramme, they would po­ten­tially miss the start of the pro­gramme,” he said. “This is…some­thing that UK uni­ver­si­ties will have to take into ac­count.”

Ms May has also said that the UK wants “a far-reach­ing sci­ence and in­no­va­tion pact with the EU, fa­cil­i­tat­ing the ex­change of ideas and re­searchers”.

But Richard Lochhead, Scot­land’s higher ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter, high­lighted that it was “in­creas­ingly likely that the UK gov­ern­ment will need a wider agree­ment around

the next Euro­pean Union mul­ti­an­nual fi­nan­cial frame­work [the EU’s over­all bud­get] with the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion be­fore it can make a deal on a wider sci­ence and in­no­va­tion ac­cord”.

“A deal on the sci­ence and in­no­va­tion ac­cord will need to be closed be­fore an agree­ment on as­so­ci­a­tion with Hori­zon Europe and other key pro­grammes can be put in place,” Mr Lochhead added.

UK uni­ver­si­ties are step­ping up their con­tin­gency plan­ning for a nodeal Brexit in light of the in­creas­ing po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty.

Pro­fes­sor Arthur, who said that UCL has a Brexit mit­i­ga­tion group, high­lighted dam­age to re­cruit­ment and re­ten­tion of EU staff and stu­dents as be­ing among key po­ten­tial im­pacts of a no-deal Brexit.

While it is widely ex­pected that in the fu­ture, EU stu­dents will face the same full fees as non-EU stu­dents and no longer have ac­cess to UK gov­ern­ment loans, Pro­fes­sor Arthur said that a deal with the EU would al­low po­ten­tial fee rises and loss of loan ac­cess to come in “af­ter the end of the im­ple­men­ta­tion pe­riod”, giv­ing “time to ad­just”.

Sir An­ton Mus­catelli, prin­ci­pal of the Uni­ver­sity of Glas­gow, said that his in­sti­tu­tion was “try­ing to pre­pare as an in­di­vid­ual uni­ver­sity” for the po­ten­tial out­comes of a no-deal Brexit “and I believe oth­ers are also en­gaged in in­ten­sive plan­ning. How­ever, it’s im­por­tant to stress that not all risks of a ‘no-deal’ sce­nario can be fully mit­i­gated. For in­stance, risks to im­ported sup­plies and travel dis­rup­tion can­not be avoided.”

Pro­fes­sor Dekete­laere high­lighted fur­ther cause for UK con­cern about Hori­zon Europe in the stance taken by one of the two Euro­pean Par­lia­ment rap­por­teurs lead­ing talks on shap­ing the pro­gramme’s rules, Ro­ma­nian MEP Dan Nica.

Mr Nica, seen as push­ing for east­ern Euro­pean na­tions to gain a big­ger share of re­search fund­ing, has pro­posed an amend­ment to the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion’s plans that would see as­so­ci­ated coun­tries ex­cluded from the pil­lar of Hori­zon Europe that in­cludes ERC grants.

Pro­fes­sor Dekete­laere added of the prospects for UK as­so­ci­a­tion: “As long as we don’t have clar­ity over Brexit, as long as we don’t have ap­proval for Hori­zon Europe, things can­not move ahead.”

Bloc ben­e­fits the UK could lose out on £1.2 bil­lion a year in Euro­pean fund­ing and the abil­ity to join in­ter­na­tional re­search con­sor­tia

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