Brexit: UK strikes deal on Horizon Europe but quits Erasmus+

Universities welcome certainty on research funding but lament loss of student exchange scheme

December 24, 2020
Flags of UK and the European Union in London
Source: iStock

The UK will participate in the European Union’s flagship research funding programmes under the terms of its post-Brexit trade deal, but will no longer be part of the Erasmus+ student exchange scheme.

Confirmation that the UK will become an associate member of the €95.5 billion (£87.6 billion) Horizon Europe research programme will come as a huge relief to academics, who feared the loss not only of funding but also the collaborative ties that came from participation. Horizon Europe includes the prestigious European Research Council, which funds some of the world’s leading academics.

Announcing that a deal had been struck, UK prime minister Boris Johnson said that the agreement offered “certainty for our scientists who will be able to continue to work together on great collective projects”.

“Although we want the UK to be a science superpower, we also want to be a collaborative science superpower,” Mr Johnson said.

The UK will make a contribution towards the Horizon Europe budget in order to secure its participation. Details of the agreement are yet to be published, but a summary said that the terms “provide for a fair and appropriate financial contribution towards [programmes such as Horizon Europe], fair treatment of UK participants, balanced provisions to ensure the sound financial management of programme funds, and appropriate governance arrangements”.

However, no such agreement could be struck on Erasmus+, after the two sides were unable to agree on the cost of the UK’s continued membership. Mr Johnson said that the UK would instead establish its own student mobility scheme, in partnership with “the best universities in the world”, named after computing innovator Alan Turing.

Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s chief negotiator, expressed regret at the UK’s decision on Erasmus+.

Vivienne Stern, the director of Universities UK International, said that she welcomed “clarity” on continued participation in Horizon Europe.

“This is fantastic news for the scientific community on both sides of the channel, which will allow universities in all regions of the UK to grow the scale and impact of international research collaboration, innovation and partnerships,” Ms Stern said.

Ms Stern said the news on Erasmus+ was “disappointing”, but welcomed the proposed UK alternative.

“We now ask the UK government to quickly provide clarity on this Erasmus+ domestic alternative, and that it be ambitious and fully funded. It must also deliver significant opportunities for future students to go global which the Erasmus programme has provided to date,” Ms Stern said.

Sir Adrian Smith, the president of the Royal Society, said he looked forward to seeing the details of the Brexit deal.

“Scientific progress thrives on collaboration and we have to make that as seamless as possible. The focus must now be on ensuring a fair and effective means to deliver appropriate association to EU science funding programmes, such as Horizon Europe, outlined in the agreement,” Sir Adrian said.

“Any delay in delivering such association will damage UK science and, in the event of any delay, the government must take quick action to protect and stabilise the world-class asset that is our science base.”

chris.havergal@timeshighereducation.com

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