UK prepares for research funding delay as Brexit talks go to wire

Policy experts say UK institutions would be unlikely to join EU research programme before spring

December 22, 2020
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UK universities could face delays in joining Horizon Europe even if the country secures a post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union before the end of the year, and it could be years before a domestic alternative is fully functioning in the event of no deal, policy experts warned.

With negotiations continuing down to the wire, universities were still in the dark over whether they would be able to apply for funding from the EU’s flagship research programme.

Even if a deal between the UK and the EU is reached, there is no guarantee that association to Horizon – which is due to start next month – will be included. If it is included, it is unlikely that the details, including cost, will be finalised, experts said.

Catherine Guinard, policy and advocacy manager at the Wellcome Trust, said that if Horizon Europe was included in the deal, then UK universities would probably have to wait until the spring to participate.

“There will be a delay – it won’t be that…we’ll be able to associate on 1 January. But my sense is that in a few months we will be able to have the detail worked out and so should be on time to associate by the first calls [for applications] around March, April time,” she said.

In the event of a no-deal scenario, the UK could still attempt to participate in the research programme, but Ms Guinard said it would “take a lot of political will” because there was no precedent for such an arrangement without a broader free-trade deal or bilateral agreement.

The more likely outcome in that scenario is that the UK would set up domestic alternatives. Andrew Thompson, UK Research and Innovation’s lead on international issues, said earlier this month that the funder was “as prepared as we could be” if the UK does not associate to Horizon, adding that plans for a “discovery fund” were in the pipeline.

However, James Wilsdon, professor of research policy at the University of Sheffield, said that even if the UK introduced new funding streams, it would still take time for the country to establish agreements with other countries.

“It won’t happen quickly because the overall negative repercussions of a hard Brexit will mean that individual governments across Europe will probably be quite hesitant to move quickly to repair bridges and relationships that have been damaged. It seems to me that it will all crash in quite a nasty way and take at least a couple of years to start rebuilding,” he said.

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: UK faces post-Brexit research funding delay

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Reader's comments (1)

Another big win for Brexit! I'm not sure I can take much more of this type of success. It's giddying!

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