Peers have urged the UK government to seek full association to the European Union’s next research funding programme and Erasmus+ mobility scheme, and have said that they are “extremely concerned” by the failure to prepare no deal Brexit contingency plans for both.
The House of Lords EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee makes the recommendations in a report published on 12 February, following an inquiry into the implications of Brexit for the UK’s involvement in the EU programmes that was held late last year.
Chris Skidmore, the new universities and science minister, has said that the UK’s “ambition is to associate” to the Horizon Europe research programme, which begins in 2021, but that talks cannot begin until the EU has finalised its regulations – with European elections potentially further holding up negotiations until next year.
There is a similar lack of clarity over the UK’s involvement in Erasmus+ after Brexit.
The committee says on Erasmus that it “has played a significant role in facilitating the international mobility of people studying and working in the fields of education, training, youth, and sport in the UK…The government should seek to ensure the UK remains part of this important initiative by seeking full association to the 2021–2027 Erasmus programme.”
But if association “cannot be negotiated, it will be essential to establish an alternative UK mobility scheme”, the peers add.
The committee also notes the government’s commitment to increase research spending and affirmation that research is central to “the future economic prosperity of the UK”.
“A key part of this strategy should be to prioritise continued access to EU research framework programmes by securing association to Horizon Europe,” the committee adds. “The government should ensure UK universities retain full access to EU funding opportunities and can participate in, and lead, collaborative research projects.”
Although the government has committed to underwrite funding for successful bids to EU programmes until the end of 2020 if the UK leaves without a deal, the government “still needs to agree terms with the EU for UK organisations to continue to participate in Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020 projects as third-country entities”, the peers say.
“We note the European Commission’s current unwillingness to engage in discussions on possible actions to protect people on Erasmus+ exchanges and Horizon 2020 projects in the event of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, but urge the government to continue its efforts to reach a resolution with the Commission to avoid disruption”, they add. “We remain extremely concerned about the lack of time available to negotiate and confirm these ‘no deal’ contingency plans.”
If this cannot be resolved, the UK government should “use funds set aside for the underwrite guarantee to establish replacement UK mobility and research funding schemes as quickly as possible”, the peers say.
Universities UK has warned that recent official guidance shows “that the UK government does not intend to provide a national replacement for the Erasmus scheme for 2019 and 2020” in the event of a no-deal Brexit.