leaders have written to politicians and government to warn of the risks for
research, staff and students if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.
an open letter to MPs, Universities UK, the Russell Group, Guild HE, MillionPlus and University Alliance – which collectively represent more
than 150 higher education providers across the UK – say the impact of a no deal
scenario could lead to “an academic, cultural and scientific setback from which
it would take decades to recover.”
Our 50,000 EU staff and 130,000 EU students, not to mention the 15,000 UK students studying in Europe, are starting the new year facing significant uncertainty about their futures.
Vital research links will be compromised, from new cancer treatments to technologies combatting climate change. The valuable exchange of students, staff and knowledge would be seriously damaged. And we share the concerns of business about the impact of no deal on everything from supply chains to security and travel.
In their letter, the university
leaders say the government needs to “demonstrate the required ambition, put the
right measures and guarantees in place, and, crucially, avoid the UK crashing
out of the EU without a deal on 29 March.” As a matter of urgency, they call
for a guarantee that research funding from which the UK may be excluded
at the end of March will be replaced.
European Research Council (ERC) and
Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) schemes will be worth an estimated €1.3
billion to the UK over the next two years, and fund vital scientific discovery,
including in developing new cancer treatments and to combat climate change. The
UK is currently the most successful country in hosting ERC grantees, ahead of
Germany, but would immediately become ineligible in the event of no deal.
Professor Dame Janet Beer, President of Universities UK, said: “We are
home to one of the best research systems in the world, attractive to stellar
academics, top students and global partnerships, and we must not let this be compromised
by a no deal Brexit. Time is running out to make decisions on issues which will
ultimately affect the country and society as a whole.
we welcome the assurances that the government has already provided about the
continuation of Horizon 2020 funding in a no deal scenario, it is critical that
similar guarantees are extended, without delay, to cover ERC and MSCA funding.
cast-iron assurances, world-leading academics and researchers may leave for
countries where access to ERC funding is not at risk, and those currently
considering relocating to the UK may think again.”
Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell,
President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manchester, said: “University research is at the forefront of scientific and medical
breakthroughs and many are only possible through EU research collaborations, on
projects led by UK universities.
the University of Manchester, vital and transformative research programmes risk
being disrupted, such as our work on proton-beam therapy for cancer patients,
which allows more precise targeting of tumour sites and minimises damage to
surrounding tissue, and our Nobel-prize winning work on graphene, the strongest, thinnest and most versatile material ever identified.
“Leaving the EU without a deal would be a serious
setback for these fields of discovery and many more, from the arts and social
sciences to engineering and nuclear research. Researchers who have already
spent months or even years preparing funding bids would be left high and dry,
including those whose application would be stuck in the middle of the
The open letter to MPs can be read here.
separate release with new data on EU student recruitment figures has also
been released by the Russell Group today. That can be viewed here.
Universities UK has published guidance for the sector about the implications of a
no deal Brexit and minimising risk.
Dame Janet Beer has written to the Chancellor, Philip Hammond MP, to
express Universities UK’s deep concern about the uncertainty surrounding
the replacement of EU funding from the European Research Council and Marie
Sklodowska-Curie Actions in case the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2019
without a withdrawal agreement.
Universities UK is the collective voice of 136 universities in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Its mission is to create the conditions for UK universities to be the best in the world; maximising their positive impact locally, nationally and globally. Universities UK acts on behalf of universities, represented by their heads of institution. Visit: https://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/.
About ERC funding
of ERC funded-projects hosted by UK universities include:
A scalpel that tells surgeons
immediately whether the tissue they are cutting is cancerous or not was
developed by Hungarian researcher, Professor Zoltán Takáts, at Imperial
College London. This project received an ERC Starting Grant in 2007.
Further details here.
Research that has enabled the
development of a new type of battery that will reduce the time needed to
charge electric cars to just minutes. Professor Lee Cronin, the Regius
Chair of Chemistry at the University of Glasgow received an ERC
Advanced Grant worth €2.5 million in 2014. Further details here.
The Colonic Disease Investigation by Robotic
Hydro-colonoscopy (CODIR) work at the University of Dundee which
has received just under €3 million from the ERC. The programme aimed to
increase patient compliance for screening colonoscopy in early diagnosis
of colorectal cancer, the world’s second most common cancer and overcome
major disadvantages of existing colonoscopy examinations such as
discomfort and sedation. Further details here.
details of all ERC-funded projects hosted by UK universities can be found by
searching on the ERC website.
The ERC was established in 2007 ‘to encourage the
highest quality research in Europe through competitive funding and to
support investigator-driven frontier research across all fields, on the
basis of scientific excellence’.
The UK is currently the most successful
country in terms of hosting ERC grantees. Between 2007 and 2017, the UK won over 1850 ERC grants,
compared to 1330 in Germany, our nearest competitor.
ERC grantees have won a number of prestigious prizes,
including six Nobel Prizes, four Fields Medals, five Wolf Prizes.
According to an independent study in 2018, around 80% of ERC projects have led to
scientific breakthroughs or major advances while the remaining 20% are all
judged to have advanced our knowledge base.
The risk of brain drain is highlighted by
the comments made by Duncan
Haldane after he won the 2016 Nobel prize for physics. He said that he had
been considering returning to Britain from his post at Princeton
University, but that this would be unlikely if access to prestigious
research grants from the European Research Council (ERC) was cut off.