Jo Johnson: 'minimise damage', 'maximise opportunities' from Brexit

Minister backs continued UK success in EU’s Horizon 2020 and pledges to press ahead with HE bill

June 28, 2016

Jo Johnson has said that he “anticipates” that UK applicants for European Union research funding will still be successful, while also pledging to press ahead with the Higher Education and Research Bill.

The universities and science minister sought to give reassurance to the sector on EU research funding and staff and student recruitment when he spoke at the Royal Society of Biology’s parliamentary links event today.

Mr Johnson, a vocal Remain campaigner, has announced his backing for the Conservative leadership bid of his brother Boris, who led the Leave campaign.

This morning Mr Johnson released a statement via the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills that said that there would be “no immediate changes” for EU nationals and students studying at UK universities. And it reaffirmed the continuation of funding for EU students (currently enrolled or starting this autumn) for the duration of their courses.

“The referendum result has no immediate effect on those applying to or participating in Horizon 2020,” the statement also said in relation to the EU’s research funding programme.

Meanwhile, Goldsmiths, University of London, pledged today that EU student fees would be fixed at the same level as those for home students for three years, up to and including 2018-19.

The minister told his audience: “You are clearly anxious for reassurance and very eager to know how we will deal with all the implications which we are now forced to confront.”

He said the task was now to “minimise the damage from it [the referendum result] and maximise all of the opportunities that might arise from it”.

Mr Johnson offered “clarifying information…about some aspects of science funding that may in time be impacted depending on the nature of the outcome of any negotiations that are eventually embarked upon.

“The key thing is to say that in legal terms, nothing has changed overnight as a result of the decision last Friday. We remain in the European Research Area. Horizon 2020 funding continues to flow during this period.

“And UK participants can continue to apply to this programme in the usual way. And I anticipate that they will continue to be successful, as they have been in the past.”

Mr Johnson added: “The message is British science and innovation will endure. Now, more than ever, we have to focus on what it is that makes British science truly world-class.”

He also said that to prepare for the challenges posed by the Brexit vote “it’s all the more important that we continue to work very closely with the community on the Higher Education and Research Bill that’s now before Parliament.

“I will be saying more about that in days to come, but I think it’s important to remember what the prime minister said on the steps of Downing Street on Friday morning: there was an important body of legislation announced in the Queen’s Speech in May; that programme of work carries on.”

Nicola Dandridge, the chief executive of Universities UK, said that it was “the networks that EU membership enabled which were so important to university academics – we really rely on those collaborations”.

She said that the aim for UUK would be to “make sure we can preserve what is best about that EU engagement in terms of our staff, our students and our research collaborations…We need to get the balance right between acknowledging that we need to be positive and engaged and constructive about the future, but not minimise the seriousness of the issue at stake.”

One priority for UUK is to seek clarity on the “immigration status of staff and students – now and into the future”, Ms Dandridge said.

She added: “There were assurances given about making up any financial shortfall by those on the Leave campaign – we will continue to press those cases.”

Ms Dandridge said that UUK representatives would travel to Brussels in two weeks’ time “to try and open discussions with our European colleagues and with the [European] Commission”.

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