Blog: Moving forward in Brexit

23 March 2018

Jessica Cole, Head of Policy, looks at the progress of the Brexit negotiations and the impact on universities.

It’s been another busy Brexit week, but with some positive news for universities.

Firstly, the UK and the EU have made progress towards agreeing a transition period, which will last until 31 December 2020. The agreement has two particularly important elements for our universities:

  1. It confirms that EU citizens arriving in the UK during the transition period will enjoy the same rights as those who arrived before the date we finally leave the EU. This is good news for universities wishing to recruit academics and other staff from across the EU as they can continue to do so with ease for a further 21 months after we leave. During that time, students and academics can continue to be fully mobile between the UK and the EU as they are now.
  2. It cements the agreement reached in December 2017 that the UK will continue to take part in EU programmes until the end of 2020. This includes the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and the Erasmus+ exchange programme. The Department for Business, Energy and industrial Strategy (BEIS) published a helpful document recently outlining the UK’s position in Horizon 2020. We are encouraging UK researchers to continue to apply for EU funding and we hope this also reassures European partners that they can continue working with our universities with confidence.

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What the agreement does not address is what the tuition fee and funding arrangements will be for EU students. The Russell Group has been clear that we would want any EU student starting a course during the transition period to benefit from the same fee rate and access to student loans and grants as now. Given that the overall aim of the transition period is broadly to maintain the status quo up to 2020 to provide stability and certainty for businesses and citizens, we hope the UK Government will be able to provide clarity on EU student funding for 2019/20 and 2020/21 as soon as possible.

Indeed, this point is picked up in the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report on ‘Brexit, science and innovation’, which is a welcome and useful addition to the debate. The report is clear that:

“Co-operation on science and innovation is widely regarded as a ‘win-win’ for both the UK and the EU. Securing an early agreement on science and innovation would set a positive tone for other elements of the negotiations, but the Government needs to act swiftly.”

This loudly echoes the messages from the Russell Group and we hope that as talks move from transition to our future relationship with the EU, science and innovation will indeed be a top priority.

But it is not only universities for whom this agreement is important. British businesses are also engaged in the EU’s research and innovation programmes and this week the CBI has been emphasising the importance of working with their EU counterparts on collaborative R&D projects.

The CBI is calling on the UK Government to provide certainty about its intentions to continue cooperating through the next EU framework programme (FP9) and they note that “the UK’s influence and role needs to be maintained as discussions continue around the overall direction and shape of FP9.” We agree that this is a pivotal moment to make sure the UK’s voice is heard, especially whilst we are still a member of the EU. It is positive that the UK Government has now published a position paper on FP9 and we’re pleased to see the paper reiterates a number of the key points the Russell Group would like to see in the next programme.

Alongside ensuring that FP9 is focused on excellence and supports an effective balance between fundamental, curiosity-driven research and closer-to-market activities, one of our priorities is to ensure there is sustainable funding. European leaders are in the process of agreeing the next EU Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) and we believe that research and innovation should be a funding priority, with increased resource to support more excellent proposals. This message was emphasised this week in a joint statement from 13 different European university groups, who highlighted the economic, social and technological benefits of significantly increased investment in R&D.

The Brexit negotiations still have to address further issues and the official proposals for FP9 are not expected for another few months. Nevertheless, we can welcome the positive news and statements that have come out this week. When taken together, they show just how important cross-border research collaboration is to the future of Europe, the UK and all other partners working on major challenges facing the economy, environment and society.

Framework Programme 9 - March 2018

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