Norway’s main research funder has warned academics considering collaborations with UK researchers to proceed with caution as Brexit approaches.
In a statement, the Research Council of Norway said that the risk of a hard or no-deal Brexit meant that Norwegian applicants to the European Union’s Horizon 2020 funding programme “need to consider the potential risks of cooperation with British partners”.
“The research council...is recommending that Norwegian applicants give careful thought to this before taking part in an application coordinated by British institutions or companies,” the statement continued. “Norwegian groups participating in ongoing projects with British partners must be prepared to deal with changes in their projects and re-negotiation of their contracts.”
In response to rising concerns from researchers that they could lose access to European Commission funding, the UK Treasury has promised to underwrite Horizon 2020 grants for the project duration, even in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
However, these guarantees only cover funding for UK participants, not European consortium partners, so there are questions about how funding would be distributed among continental members of a UK-led consortium in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The change in the UK’s status could also lead to concerns about ongoing compliance with Horizon 2020 rules, for example, where a consortium no longer meets the threshold for member state or associated country participants.
Simon Green, pro vice-chancellor for research at Aston University, described the Norwegian missive as a “clear example of how Brexit is beginning to bite”.
“It clearly shows how important it is for the UK to be part of the EU’s research funding structures post-Brexit and the sooner that is clarified, the better,” he said.
Norway is not part of the EU but accepts free movement and participates in Horizon 2020 on the same terms as bloc members in return for an annual payment of about NKr2 billion (£185 million).
UK ministers have said that they hope that the UK will continue to participate in EU research programmes after Brexit, but the Norwegian Research Council said that the likelihood of a no-deal departure, which would leave their continuing participation in doubt, in the short term at least, has “increased significantly”.
“Limitations [on] the mobility of students and research personnel will pose challenges…Norwegian applicants should think through all the potential ramifications before participating in applications coordinated by British institutions,” the council said.
John-Arne Rottingen, chief executive of the council, told Times Higher Education that the “message of caution…only concerns cooperation within the ongoing Horizon 2020 specifically”. He said that he hoped that “this issue is resolved soon in a manner that will benefit research cooperation with the UK and Europe within Horizon 2020”.
“It is important to underscore that research cooperation with UK is extremely important for Norway,” Professor Rottingen added. “The UK is important in the international research arena, and we are interested in continuing our close scientific cooperation,” he said.