Replacing top EU research schemes in the UK post-Brexit is ‘a formidable challenge’, says House of Lords. International scientific collaborations could not be replicated at the national level
Replicating EU research programmes in the UK if the country leaves the EU without a deal would be ‘a formidable challenge’, a report from the UK House of Lords says.
It would “take many years for any UK alternative to emulate the strength and productivity of the research collaborations built through the EU’s research programmes, and the prestigious reputation of funding instruments” like the European Research Council (ERC).
The report looks at the short and longer-term implications of Brexit for UK participation in the EU Horizon 2020 research and Erasmus+ student exchange programmes.
In preparation for no-deal, the UK government has committed to underwrite funding from the EU Horizon programme until the end of 2020. However, no-deal would see the loss of access to the ERC and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, which are not open to third country participation and not covered by the guarantee. The government has said it would consider replacing the ERC and Erasmus+ if the country had restricted access after Brexit.
Grants from these programmes account for about 44 per cent of total UK receipts from Horizon 2020, the report says. The UK is the second largest recipient of Horizon 2020 funding overall, receiving some 15 per cent of grants distributed through the programme since 2014, totalling €5.7 billion.
“The lack of clarity over the future availability of EU funds for mobility and research is causing great concern among researchers in the UK,” said Michael Jay, chair of the EU Home Affairs sub-committee, which wrote the report. “We need to know how, in a no deal scenario, the Horizon 2020 underwrite guarantee would work in practice, and how the government would replace major funding schemes not covered by this guarantee: the ERC grants and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions,” he said.
Participation in EU research programmes provides clear benefits in addition to grant funding, Jay said. “It offers access to large-scale research facilities, joint infrastructure and equipment, and access to the most talented researchers across Europe. The programme also supports unique opportunities for international research collaboration which could not be replicated at the national level.”
With 46 days until the UK is to leave the EU, the government still needs to agree terms with the EU for UK organisations to continue to participate in Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020 projects as third country entities.
“We remain extremely concerned about the lack of time available to negotiate and confirm these no-deal contingency plans,” the report says. “We were concerned to learn that the European Commission has thus far been unwilling to engage in discussions on no-deal contingency plans, and urge both parties to work together to avoid disruption to research projects and UK and EU nationals on Erasmus+ placements.”
A divorce withdrawal agreement setting out the terms of the UK’s exit and the outline of future relations with the EU, rejected last month by the UK parliament, would ensure the country’s participation in Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020 could continue largely unchanged until the end of the current EU budget period in 2020.
The agreement indicates that the UK’s strategic influence would be diminished slightly, as UK representatives would only attend meetings of committees that assist in the management of EU programmes exceptionally, “upon invitation”, and without voting rights.
“We urge the government to confirm whether it will seek full association to the 2021–2027 Erasmus and Horizon Europe programmes as soon as possible, to maximise certainty and stability for UK students and researchers, and to enable them to plan for any changes,” the report says.
The financial contributions required to secure association to Horizon Europe is likely to be higher than for Horizon 2020, because it will have a higher budget.
The proposals for Horizon Europe also set out a financial rebalancing mechanism, which would mean the UK could not be a net beneficiary of EU research and innovation funding, as it is today.
“Nonetheless, although the costs of participation will be greater, so too will be the opportunities for funding and international collaboration offered under the larger 2021–2027 Erasmus and Horizon Europe programmes. We consider the cost of securing association to them a worthwhile investment,” the report says.