Despite predictions that the Brexit vote has irreparably damaged its academic leadership, the UK won more European Union research and innovation funds as project leaders than any other country last year.
It led €752 million (£654 million) worth of Horizon 2020 projects that started in 2018, just ahead of Germany, which coordinated projects worth €751 million, according to a Times Higher Education analysis of EU data.
The UK’s performance in 2018 followed concerns that European researchers and funding bodies could shun collaboration with UK partners amid ongoing uncertainty over Brexit and Britain’s continued membership of the EU’s research bodies.
In 2017, Germany overtook the UK as Europe’s biggest winner of Horizon 2020 funds – with France and Spain also closing the gap on the UK in terms of projects led by its researchers.
However, new figures suggest that the UK’s ability to lead Europe-wide projects remained strong in the year before its exit from the bloc in March 2019.
Its performance was particularly strong when projects funded by the European Research Council (ERC), widely regarded as the “gold standard” of research, were considered.
ERC projects worth €314 million began under the guidance of UK-based researchers in 2018 – 30 per cent more than the value of projects started under German guidance (€242 million). The UK’s ERC total was almost 80 per cent higher than France’s income (€175 million) and almost five times the amount awarded to Spanish-led research projects (€67 million).
Graeme Reid, professor of science and research policy at UCL, said that the latest figures and other indicators suggested that “many of the fears about the effect of Brexit have not materialised”.
“That is not an argument for complacency and nor does it reflect every individual experience – there are no doubt individual researchers who have been discouraged from participating in EU programmes,” said Professor Reid.
“But it does suggest that we should be careful not to talk down our own performance or prospects without reference to evidence that paints a different picture.”