British Academics Fear for Losses to Science Funding Following Brexit

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Since 2014, the UK has received  €4.6bn from the EU’s Horizon 2020 science programme.  

A large portion of this money has come from research programmes exclusive to EU member states,  including the European Research Council (€1.29bn), Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions (€700m), and SME Instrument Grants (€140m).  Since 2007, the UK was awarded 22% of allocated funds and nearly 1,400 of over 5,000 grants offered by the European Research Council.  However, Brexit threatens this flow of funding.

A report by the Royal Society has shown that UK institutions rely heavily on EU funding for subjects in the arts, humanities, social sciences, IT, and STEM subjects.  A particular field that relies on EU funding is archaeology, with 38% of funding for UK archaeological research coming from the EU. Other fields that rely on EU funding are cancer and other health research.

Dr Mike Galsworthy from the campaign group Scientists for EU, explained that a no-deal Brexit “would mean losing over half a billion a year in high value grants.  No deal would wreck nearly half the funding we’re eligible for, it would be absolutely devastating.”

In anticipation to a no-deal Brexit, some universities, including Cardiff and Imperial London, have offered or are considering offering joint contracts to researchers in EU institutions, in an attempt in ensure continued eligibility for EU funding.

The UK Government has said that it hopes to secure a deal with the EU to ensure at least the partial continuation of science funding.  

A spokesperson for the UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) stated: “The government’s priority is to conclude and finalise the Withdrawal Agreement. This would ensure that the UK’s participation in Horizon 2020 would be unaffected when we leave the EU.”

Regarding the possibility of a no-deal Brexit, the government has promised to guarantee the payment of EU funding up to 2020.  

A BEIS spokesperson said: “The UK has announced support for third-country participation in a no-deal scenario via the extension to the underwrite guarantee.  We are considering what other measures may be necessary to support UK research and innovation in the unlikely event of no-deal.”

“In terms of people in research and higher education, the fallout will be massive.”

However, Oxford professor Simon Marginson has cautioned: “In my judgment we are likely to have a hard Brexit, or at best an unresolved research funding picture. In terms of people in research and higher education, the fallout will be massive.”

Marginson continued: “In research funding, other countries naturally give priority to their own citizens or residents. That is why the EU research programmes are so valuable. They make decisions on merit across a large number of countries, dramatically widening the potential pool of talent and ideas, and they encourage collaboration.”

There exists the possibility that Europe’s next science programme, Horizon Europe, will be more open to countries outside the EU, but at the moment nothing is certain.  The UK may also be able to negotiate an associate member status for Horizon Europe, but the costs and limitations of such a membership are also currently unclear.

Nikita Zychowicz

[Image: Getty Images]