Research collaboration and role in post-Brexit free trade agreements vital for universities – new reports

​UK research and higher education must form a central consideration of any post-Brexit trade deals, according to new research published today. 

This is one of the findings from two new research reports that Universities UK has released today to coincide with a major national conference on the future for the UK economy after Brexit, organised by Prosperity UK. This event brings together leading policy makers, politicians, academics and businesspeople. Both reports look at post-Brexit opportunities and challenges and include new research and analysis.

International research collaboration after the UK leaves the European Union, a report produced by Digital Science for Universities UK, identifies opportunities for the UK through collaborative research partnerships with current, alternative and emerging research systems around the world. The report concludes that more could be done to facilitate international research collaboration, and this requires more than just funding. Better information on capabilities and research strengths of UK-based researchers, research organisations and potential collaborators is needed, the importance of cultural barriers to international research collaborations need to be better understood, and the importance of policy and funding stability in nurturing effective research partnerships must be recognised.

A report on Free Trade Agreements and opportunities for UK Higher Education produced by the UK Trade Policy Observatory at the University of Sussex for Universities UK, looks at how the UK government could consider opportunities for UK higher education through future free trade agreements (FTAs).  As the UK prepares to negotiate a series of new free trade agreements with countries around the world following exit from the EU, the report highlights the critical need for higher education and research to figure prominently as a consideration ahead of these discussions. Higher education and research should be considered as a high priority as part of any new international agreement which the UK government may consider post-Brexit. This engagement is critical not only to unlock opportunities, but to identify and address any potential concerns. Careful monitoring will be required to ensure that agreements do not close off opportunities, expose UK universities to unnecessary risk, or compromise the world-leading reputation of UK higher education.

Alistair Jarvis, Deputy Chief Executive of Universities UK, said:

"British universities have a vital contribution to make to a successful, dynamic and internationally competitive post-exit United Kingdom. Universities play a central role in driving inclusive economic growth locally, regionally and nationally; improving productivity as part of a new industrial strategy; and strengthening our international trade and diplomatic relationships across Europe and the wider world."

"This new research highlights opportunities and challenges for UK higher education through future free trade agreements and the need for Government support to facilitate international research collaboration. The positive contribution of UK higher education to the UK economy and society will be greatest if British universities are magnets for international talent, are welcoming to international students and are leaders in international research collaboration. Universities need Government to develop the right, evidence-based policies to enable universities to maximise their impact."



  1. Universities UK is the representative organisation for the UK's universities. Founded in 1918, its mission is to be the definitive voice for all universities in the UK, providing high quality leadership and support to its members to promote a successful and diverse higher education sector. With 135 members and offices in London, Cardiff (Universities Wales) and Edinburgh (Universities Scotland), it promotes the strength and success of UK universities nationally and internationally. Visit: 
  2. For information on the implications of Brexit for UK universities, see Universities UK's Brexit FAQs and our briefing outlining policy priorities to support universities post-exit. ​


Key Contacts

Steven Jefferies

Steven Jefferies

Head of Media
Universities UK

Eloise Phillips

Eloise Phillips

Media Officer
Universities UK

Clara Plackett

Clara Plackett

Senior Media Officer
Universities UK


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