UK Universities return to Brexit uncertainty

With most students returning to or starting university this week, John has been working on two ‘legislative opinions’* in the European Parliament that will, Brexit or no Brexit, affect the future of students in the UK and the universities as institutions. 

The EU is developing its Horizon Europe (Framework 9) programme through which it will make its research investment from 2021 to 2027. The EU’s programmes include institutions from a number of countries outside the EU. John is working hard to make sure that the door is not closed on UK Universities. 

He says, “It is vital that the seventeen universities within the South East, are not restricted in their ability to continue to be world class research centres as well as to attract both EU Students and Staff. The Horizon 2020 (Framework 8) programme has ensured South East England has remained at the forefront of research and innovation. The success of this thriving sector depends on international collaboration. I would prefer the UK didn’t leave at all, but while I will always argue that it is also my job is to help get the best deal possible”.

Britain receives a considerable amount of funding through international research programmes, particularly those originating in the EU. In fact the UK gets out more proportionately than it currently put in. Over the period 2007-2013, Britain was the second largest recipient of research funding through the EU’s Framework Programme 7, receiving €6.9 billion out of a total €55.4 billion. Furthermore, UK higher education institutions received £725 million in research funding from EU government bodies in 2014/15, which accounts for 12 per cent of their total income from research grants.

Since 2014, the South East of England has benefitted from nearly €420 million of research funding to support 709 research projects under Horizon 2020.

John and his colleagues have consistently made the argument that the UK remaining in the programmes and, eventually, the UK Government has agreed, in principle, that it wants to ‘pay and play’. That means the UK will pay MORE than it pays at present to take part in these programmes - but the sad reality is this is the only way to keep our institutions at the forefront - there is no alternative framework available. The upside is that the budget for the programme will grow substantially. Now John is trying to make sure that the EU legislation governing Horizon Europe doesn’t contain traps that seek to limit access or prevent UK universities benefitting from the outcome of their research.   

The second programme on which John is working is Erasmus+ which enables students to study at universities in the rest of the EU.

The UK’s participation in Erasmus+ continues to grow year-on-year, with 15,645 students from UK universities spending a period abroad in 2015–16, up from 14,801 students in 2014–15. 

So far John has been able to get assurances from the UK Univerisities Minister, Sam Gymah MP, that the UK intends to seek participation in Erasmus+ and from the European Commission that the door will remain open to the UK.  

John says “I hope the UK government will join me in helping shape the next phase of Erasmus+ working toward greater flexibility for short-term mobility, and of providing targeted support for disadvantaged students who would like to participate in Erasmus+ in the future. We already know that funding for Erasmus will increase significantly after 2020. It would be a tragedy if UK students were forced to miss out under a ‘no deal’ or hard Brexit.

“More broadly however, the UK government and the EU must ensure future academic and student mobility is not impeded by unnecessary bureaucracy regardless of the immigration status of EU/EEA nationals if and when UK leaves the EU”.

Universities in the South East of England have benefitted hugely from both the Horizon 2020 and Erasmus programmes. Allowing students to be at the forefront of new, exciting research combined will be part of any Brexit deal that swerves the interests of both the UK and the EU. The next six months will be make of break for the university sector - one of Britain’s biggest export earners.


* a ‘legislative opinion’ is a specialist view of a particular committee seeking to amend/influence EU legislation being determined by another committee in the Parliament.