Wednesday 6 July 2016

Brexit and the Suffocating Dog of Research

After the storm, the clear up. Or rather, after the storm, the running for cover. As the UK political infrastructure goes into meltdown, and politicians shake their heads sadly and claim that it was nothing to do with them - it's the 'will of the people' - a number of colleagues have asked about how Brexit will affect the UK’s ability to access European research funding, Horizon 2020

The official answer is that the UK is still a member state, and will remain so until the Article 50 negotiations are completed, and therefore UK academics can still apply as they have always done. In addition David Cameron has confirmed that research contracts signed before the date on which the UK leaves the EU will be honoured through to the end. A formal announcement from Jo Johnson confirming this is available here.

However, the informal answer is that, little by little, the EU funding tide is retreating. Sure, nothing has officially been said, but anecdotally it is clear that partners in mainland Europe are getting nervous about including UK academics in their consortia. 

And why wouldn't they? Whilst the UK will still remains a member state for at least two years, what then? The government will probably have many other fish to fry in 24 months time, including shoring up the pound, negotiating hundreds of individual trade deals, and working out the age old problem of how to retain a cake whilst also consuming it. The funding of research will probably come quite low on their totem pole of priorities. 

Some have suggested that it *should* all be alright: like Israel and Norway, we will be able to pay in order to get special 'associated country' access to H2020. However, from what I've heard, this is unlikely: the EU will not want to offer up another cheek when one has already been so roundly slapped. To do so would be to invite all the other antsy Europeans, such as Denmark and Finland, to line up and join in the cheek-slapping fun. 

I hope I'm wrong, but I fear I'm not. However, I would still encourage those considering applying for European funding to continue with their plans. Not only is it an excellent source of funding, and facilitates incredibly productive collaborations, but it demonstrates that Kent is outward looking, engaged, and will remain the UK’s European universityThe PVC Research has offered to provide formal letters of support from the University confirming this, and has already done so for one potential applicant. 

This is a good gesture, but will it be enough? When faced with the uncertainty of the UK's future, I wouldn't be surprised if those in mainland Europe opt for the certainty of those who are fully committed to the European project. As I say, I hope I'm wrong, but I fear that, like an over-zealous dog-owner in a hot summer car park, the UK will slowly suffocate the very thing it loves by winding up the windows to protect it from the outside world. 


  1. Or researchers in the rest of Europe will be looking forward to not having to compete against administratively well-supported UK-based researchers who keep on coming over there and taking a disproportionately large share of the European funding brioche by the underhand tactic of clear research plans....

  2. Thanks for the post. You mention that "a formal announcement from Jo Johnson" confirms that EU funded contracts will be honoured for their duration. However, the statement says no such thing, and doesn't make any reference to how Horizon 2020 grants will be funded following Brexit. David Cameron did say something vague about honouring contracts in a comment in the House of Commons, but a comment like this from a now-former prime minister means absolutely nothing.