by Rebecca Weinberg
Scottish universities receive 10% of their research income from the EU, according to a report by the Scottish Government.
The EU’s Horizon 2020 research project is an integral part of Scottish academia, allowing Scottish universities to collaborate with researchers from other EU countries on groundbreaking projects across a variety of subjects.
However, the looming shadow of Brexit is putting Scotland’s academic research community at risk.
UWS News spoke to Graham Jeffery, a reader in Arts and Media at the University of the West of Scotland, about Brexit’s effect on EU-funded research in Scotland.
“I was involved in an early stage Horizon 2020 project. We were not able to proceed with it because of the uncertainties about Brexit. So, the university that was leading it actually slung us out after 2016.
“The consensus among the universities was that it was too much of a risk to include the UK, because they just didn’t know what the government was going to do, and they didn’t want to make the whole project ineligible.”
The project, which had partners in Finland, the Netherlands, and Spain, ultimately was scrapped. Scrapped, too, was the trust between UK and EU universities.
“The government stepped in and said it would underwrite the fund, but by then the damage was done, and the relationship had been broken.”
This happened in 2016, when Brexit negotiations were still in their infancy. Now, three years later, the situation is still unclear.
“[The government] have said they’ll underwrite [Horizon 2020 funding] so people can still apply to it, but that only applies up until the point that we exit – if we exit.”
On the government’s website, the government ensures that it is “committed to guarantee funding for all successful competitive UK bids to Horizon 2020 that are submitted before we leave the EU, if there’s a no-deal Brexit.”
It does not mention what the situation will be after Britain’s exit.
Jeffrey details other EU-funded resources which could be lost following Brexit:
“The other issue which affects a lot of my colleagues who work in science, is that we’re potentially losing access to all of these European-funded central research facilities. There’s lots of European research networks which pool resources and have centres which we’re being cut out of.
“Again, the government has made vague commitments to saying ‘we’d quite like to still be part of these’, but there’s no guarantees and there’s been no details.”
In terms of facilities, the government has only offered a firm guarantee to provide funding for its share in the nuclear fusion experimental site, Joint European Torus, until the end of 2020.
Scotland’s involvement in Horizon 2020 has, in the past, been very large. Jeffrey speaks about the importance of Scotland’s contributions to European research projects:
“Scotland’s got 17 universities for a country of 5 million. We get a disproportionate share of Horizon 2020 funding because we’ve got a lot of very good universities.
“[Brexit] is an absolute disaster for us because there’s no guarantee of where that money is going to be replaced from. And, more than just the money, it’s about the fact that these grants are a mechanism to enable us to collaborate with researchers elsewhere in Europe. [The EU] fund[s] the travel, they fund the exchange, they fund the conversation.
“Without the funding, we can’t do it.”