Brexit is causing a drop in European research funding for Oxbridge

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One of the UK’s leading universities has seen funding from a major European research program drop from £62m a year to £62m a year since Brexit, new figures show.

The latest statistics from the European Commission show that Cambridge University, which received €483m (£433m) over the seven years of the last European research funding programme, Horizon 2020, has not received any funding in the first two years of the new Horizon Europe programme. program.

Meanwhile, Horizon Europe awarded just €2m to Oxford, which received €523m from the previous programme.

Britain’s associate membership of the €95.5bn Horizon Europe program was agreed in principle as part of Brexit trade deal negotiations in 2020, but ratification was disrupted when the UK failed to implement the Northern Ireland protocol. Such funding is vital for UK universities as it enables research collaborations with institutions across Europe and has significant international prestige.

“For higher education and research, there are no new opportunities and no potential benefits from Brexit,” said Simon Marginson, professor of higher education at Oxford.

He described Brexit as a “historic error of significant proportions” and said the new data on Oxford and Cambridge – normally Europe’s best performers – was “deeply worrying”. The losses amounted to more than money, he said, with the UK becoming equally attractive to high-quality European researchers and students.

The government has promised to cover all successful Horizon Europe grants applied for by the end of March, but after watching the political stalemate for more than two years, many academics are leaving of the UK now, saying they no longer trust their vital European research partnerships. to protect.

In August of last year, Professor Augusta McMahon, an archaeologist specializing in the Middle East, left the University of Cambridge, where she had worked for 26 years, to return to the University of Chicago. Although she was worried about what she calls “the best job in my field” for the United States, she says the uncertainty of Brexit was a big factor. “I no longer thought that the government would be united [with Horizon Europe] or provide replacement funding,” she said.

With the number of EU students coming to UK universities more than halved since Brexit, she was noticing a decline on campus. Meanwhile, she said fewer European lecturers were applying for jobs here.

Professor Paul Pharoah, who researches the genetic epidemiology of ovarian and breast cancer, left Cambridge after 26 years at the end of last year and now works at Cedars Sinai hospital in Los Angeles.

Pharoah, who has been involved in two major EU-funded research projects in the past 15 years, said it was becoming much more difficult to get funding for his field in the UK: “And because of the lack of opportunities to apply on EU funding, the view was balanced. more grim.”

Gáspár Jékely, a German professor of neuroscience based at the University of Exeter, started working at the University of Heidelberg last week. He took his top grant from the European Research Council (ERC) with him.

“The lack of security regarding European cooperation and funding was one of my reasons for going,” he said. “It was becoming increasingly difficult to recruit researchers and post-docs from Europe.” 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 €3m award.”

Last April, the ERC gave 150 grant winners in the UK two months to decide whether to transfer their grant to a European institution or lose the funding. In the end, UK Research and Innovation, the government’s research funding organisation, matched funding to 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 grant winners are nationals of a different country, which would affect them in terms of outward mobility,” she said.

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