Brexit view from the Continent: partnerships face ‘huge problem’

The leader of the German Rectors’ Conference questions ‘how easy it would be’ for academics to work across borders after the UK leaves the EU

July 1, 2016
Man handing file/documents to colleague over office partition
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Cross-border: collaboration is key

Collaborations between universities in the UK and the rest of Europe face a “huge problem” following the vote for the UK to leave the European Union, according to the president of the German Rectors’ Conference.

Horst Hippler, leader of the HRK, Germany’s equivalent of Universities UK, said he “cannot see” how European university partnerships with the UK “can continue as they have in the past”.

“I would be happy if this could be worked out, but I don’t see this [happening] at the moment,” he told Times Higher Education. “I see a huge problem coming up for scientific exchange between Britain and the rest of Europe.”

He said that projects with UK universities that have already been financed will continue for now, but added that research was a “dynamic process” and that amid uncertainty there was a possibility that “funding may end abruptly” for projects involving UK universities.

It was also unclear “how easy it would be” for academics and students to move across borders in the future.

“Would [the UK introduce] visas for researchers? This is one of the most important questions,” he said.

“At the moment, there are 4,000 foreign students on the Erasmus+ programme in Britain, and more than 2,000 British students at German universities also supported by Erasmus. There will be a problem to have this intense exchange programme being continued in the future.”

Lykke Friis, pro-rector for education at the University of Copenhagen, said that the EU and the UK were heading for “a long and bloody divorce, which puts us in a situation where for a long time the future of Erasmus and the future of Horizon 2020 funding is uncertain”.

But she remained optimistic that an agreement between the UK and the EU would be reached to allow collaborations with UK universities to continue.

“We have such a long-term collaboration with the UK. They are some of our closest allies. I think we will find a solution,” she said.

Ole Petter Ottersen, rector of the University of Oslo – an institution in a country, Norway, that is not part of the EU – and chair of the board of the Guild of European Research Intensive Universities, said that he anticipated “no major changes” for collaborations between universities in the UK and the rest of Europe.

“The sentiment in Norway is very clear. We will continue to collaborate with British universities,” he said.

“We really think in the end there will be no major changes when it comes to the possibilities to collaborate across borders in Europe. We simply cannot afford to see this long-term development in research collaborations disappear into thin air.”

Meanwhile, Jacques Biot, president of the École Polytechnique in France, said that the university already had strong partnerships with “institutions with which it shares common values and ambitions, whether they’re members of the European Union or not”.

“As a matter of fact, we have recently strengthened our relations with Switzerland, Japan, Israel, China and the United States. I am confident that we may find the same type of relationship with UK universities if the exit does really take place in the end.”

ellie.bothwell@tesglobal.com

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