Be ready to push for science-only EU deal, UK universities told

Westminster is providing ‘no reassurance’ it will keep negotiating in the event of a no-deal Brexit, peers told

October 22, 2020
European Commission in Brussels
Source: iStock

British universities must prepare to make the case for a separate science deal to be negotiated swiftly if Brexit talks between the UK and the European Union end in no deal, a sector leader has said.

Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK International, said the hope would be that the UK and the EU “get back round the table pretty quickly” in the event of no deal to make individual agreements on a range of issues, but she had not heard “any concrete reassurance that that is going to happen”.

“In fact, what I seem to be hearing from UK government is: ‘Don’t imagine if we leave on the 31st [December] without an agreement we’re going to keep negotiating afterwards.’ That is really quite horrifying because they would have to keep negotiating, surely – not to extend the transition period, but there will be a whole host of issues where we need agreement,” she told the House of Lords’ European Union Services Sub-Committee.

However, Ms Stern said that in the event of a no-deal scenario, universities would have to persuade both the UK and the EU that participation in Brussels’ Horizon Europe funding programme was an area where they “should try to come together quite quickly” to establish an agreement.

Catherine Guinard, policy and advocacy manager at the Wellcome Trust, said the higher education sector would be in a “very complicated scenario” if there was no deal as there was not a precedent for a science and innovation deal between the EU and another country that included Horizon association without a broader free-trade deal or bilateral agreement.

“If we find ourselves in a no-deal scenario where there is no broader deal with the EU and there’s no precedent, it’s going to be a much harder slog to agree a deal for science,” she said during the committee’s first public evidence session as part of its inquiry into the future UK-EU relationship on research and education.

But Ms Stern added that there could be an upside to a no-deal scenario, referencing the fact that Switzerland lost access to Horizon Europe because it “offended a broader treaty” in regards to freedom of movement with Croatia.

“If you’ve got that kind of framework structure – where something that goes wrong in another area that has nothing to do with science ends up making collaboration in science impossible – it would be better for us if it was decoupled,” she said.

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

I've been saying that we - the universities of the UK - need to get off our collective rears and forge our own links with Europe for a long time. Politicians cannot be trusted to take account of our needs, just as they cannot be trusted to put the needs of the citizens of the UK and EU in general before their own egos and self-interest. We are a large enough community to stand up for ourselves and make our own agreements. It beggars belief that we have not already done so.

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