Photo: Nicholas T Ansell/PA
One of the UK’s most prestigious universities has seen funding for a major European research program fall from £62 million a year to nothing since Brexit, new figures show.
The latest statistics from the European Commission show that Cambridge University, which earned €483 million (£433 million) over the seven years of Europe’s last research funding programme, Horizon 2020, has not received any funding in its first two years. the new Horizon Europe programme.
Meanwhile, Oxford, which won €523 million from the earlier programme, has only received €2 million from Horizon Europe so far.
Britain’s associate membership of the €95.5 billion Horizon Europe program was agreed in principle as part of the 2020 Brexit trade deal negotiations, but ratification was disrupted after the UK failed to accept the Northern Ireland protocol had implemented. Such funding is vital to UK universities as it enables research collaborations with institutions across Europe and has considerable international prestige.
“For higher education and research, there are no new opportunities and no real potential benefits from Brexit,” said Simon Marginson, Professor of Higher Education at Oxford.
He described Brexit as a “historic mistake of monumental proportions” and said the new data on Oxford and Cambridge – mostly the best performing countries in Europe – was “deeply concerning”. The losses extended beyond money, he added, and the UK also became less attractive to high-quality European researchers and students.
The government has guaranteed it will cover all successful Horizon Europe grants applied for at the end of March, but after watching the political bickering for more than two years, many academics are now leaving the UK, saying they are not pursuing their vital European research partnerships longer believe will be protected.
Last August, Professor Augusta McMahon, an archaeologist specializing in the Middle East, left Cambridge University, where she had worked for 26 years, to return to Chicago University. Although she was lured to the US by what she calls “the best job in my field,” she says Brexit uncertainty was a big factor. “I no longer thought the government would associate [with Horizon Europe] or provide replacement financing,” she said.
With the number of EU students coming to UK universities more than halved since Brexit, she saw their decline on campus. Meanwhile, according to her, fewer European teachers applied here.
Professor Paul Pharoah, who researches the genetic epidemiology of ovarian and breast cancer, left Cambridge late last year after 26 years and now works at Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles.
Pharoah, who has been involved in two major EU-funded research projects over the past 15 years, said it was becoming much more difficult to find funding for his field in the UK: gloomier.”
Gáspár Jékely, a German professor of neuroscience stationed at the University of Exeter, started at the University of Heidelberg last week. He brought his high-cachet European Research Council (ERC) advanced grant.
“The lack of security around European collaborations and funding was one of my reasons for going,” he said. “Recruiting researchers and postdocs from Europe became increasingly difficult.” He added: “A colleague of mine at Exeter has just won a prestigious ERC grant, but we don’t know what will happen to it. Nobody wants to lose a prize of three million euros.”
Last April, the ERC gave 150 UK scholarship winners two months to decide whether to move their scholarship to a European institution or lose funding. Eventually, UK Research and Innovation, the government’s funding body for research, matched funding for those who stayed, but one in eight left the UK.
Vassiliki Papatsiba, an education expert at Cardiff University who has researched the impact of Brexit on universities, said the UK could continue to lose talented researchers in this way. “Nearly 50% of UK-based ERC scholarship winners are nationals of another country, so that would predispose them to outbound mobility,” she said.