Brexit causes collapse of European research funding for Oxbridge

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One of the UK’s most prestigious universities has seen its funding of a massive £62m a year European research program drop to nothing since Brexit, new figures show.

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

Meanwhile, Oxford, which earned €523m from the previous programme, has to date only received €2m from Horizon Europe.

Britain’s associate membership of the €95.5 billion Horizon Europe program was agreed in principle as part of the Brexit trade deal negotiations in 2020, but ratification fell short after the UK failed to implement the Northern Ireland protocol . Such funding is vital to UK universities because it enables research collaborations with institutions across Europe and has considerable international standing.

“For higher education and research, there are no real new opportunities or possible advantages from Brexit,” said Simon Marginson, a professor of higher education at Oxford.

He described Brexit as a “historic mistake of monumental proportions” and said new data on Oxford and Cambridge, typically the best performing countries in Europe, were “very worrying”. The losses go beyond money, she added, and the UK also becomes less attractive to high-quality European researchers and students.

The government has guaranteed it will cover all successful Horizon Europe grants applied for by the end of March, but after watching political wrangling for more than two years, many academics are now leaving the UK, saying they no longer believe in its vital partnerships. of European research. will be protected.

In August 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 drawn to the US for what she calls “the best work in my field”, she says the uncertainty of Brexit was a big factor. “I no longer thought that the government would associate [with Horizon Europe] or provide replacement funds,” he said.

With the number of EU students coming to UK universities more than halving since Brexit, I was noticing their decline on campus. Meanwhile, he said fewer European professors were applying for jobs here.

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

Pharoah, who was involved in two large EU-funded research projects in the last 15 years, said it was becoming increasingly difficult to find funding for his field in the UK: “And the lack of opportunities to apply for EU funding made that the prospects were even more difficult”. darker.”

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

“The lack of security around European collaborations and funding was one of my reasons for going,” he said. “Recruiting researchers and postdocs from Europe was becoming increasingly difficult.” He added: “A colleague of mine in Exeter has just won a prestigious ERC grant, but we don’t know what will happen to her. Nobody wants to lose a prize of 3 million euros.

Last April, the ERC gave 150 grant winners in the UK two months to decide whether to move their grant to a European institution or lose funding. In the end, UK Research and Innovation, the government research funding organization, matched the funding of 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. “Almost 50% of ERC grant winners in the UK are citizens of a different country, so that would predispose them to mobility abroad,” he said.

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