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EU Educational and Research Programmes

Volume 670: debated on Monday 20 January 2020

11. What plans he has to ensure UK access to EU educational and research programmes after the UK leaves the EU; and if he will make a statement. (900249)

The Government greatly value international co-operation in education, science and research. The withdrawal agreement protects the continuation of both Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020, and we will seek to participate in the relevant future EU programmes as part of future negotiations. Many of these programmes, or the regulations, simply are not ready yet. The political declaration makes the position absolutely clear. As for participation, it is a matter for the upcoming negotiations.

Institutions across Scotland, including the University of Glasgow, receive some of the highest per capita shares of Horizon 2020. They will understandably be worried by the comments of the Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, who has said that the UK will be treated as a third party, and that there will be no cherry-picking in any new deals for programme participation. Will the Minister tell us what that means in terms of potential new barriers for institutions such as those in my constituency?

I have enormous respect for the University of Glasgow and its excellent vice-chancellor, Anton Muscatelli, who is the author of a report on how to spread innovatory practices across Scotland. I am learning a lot from that work.

I am determined that we should work towards association with Horizon Europe, the successor to Horizon 2020, but we need to know what the final regulations are. I am in regular contact with ministerial equivalents across Europe. Earlier this morning I had an opportunity to speak to the higher education and research Minister of Croatia, which currently holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union, at the Education World Forum. I am determined that, as we proceed with the wider negotiations, Horizon Europe should be part of that.

The sector has repeatedly expressed concerns about our future participation, or potential non-participation, in Horizon Europe. We have been told by the Prime Minister and his Ministers that they intend to remain, or that “we hope to remain, but not at any cost”. When can we have absolute clarity? The sector needs it now, as do the EU researchers and academics who work in our higher education institutions.

I can absolutely confirm the Government’s commitment to research and development, and our wider commitment to doubling the R&D budget. We will spend a record amount on R&D for the future as we seek to become a global science superpower. When it comes the Horizon budget, we obviously want to work at pace to ensure that we can look at association. The association articles have yet to be fully developed, and we need to work with the EU on that. We are not alone in this—Switzerland, Norway, Israel, South Africa, Canada and many other countries are keen to associate themselves with Horizon Europe—but we must wait for the development of those articles. We will respond shortly to the Smith report, prepared by Sir Adrian Smith and Graeme Reid, which sets out alternatives to Horizon Europe.

As I have already said to the hon. Lady, I view this very much as a hub-and-spoke approach. I want association with Horizon Europe to be the centrepiece of our innovation strategy, but I want us then to build on that through future international co-operation.

Many of the countries that the Minister has just mentioned also participate fully in Erasmus. The future relationship with the EU has yet to be decided, as was confirmed by the Secretary of State when he said that Erasmus

“will be a question for further negotiations”.—[Official Report, 14 January 2020; Vol. 669, c. 912.]

However, at Prime Minister’s questions last week, the Prime Minister said:

“There is no threat to the Erasmus scheme, and we will continue to participate in it. UK students will continue to be able to enjoy the benefits of exchanges with our European friends and partners, just as they will be able to continue to come to this country.”—[Official Report, 15 January 2020; Vol. 669, c. 1021.]

Who was correct, the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State?

When it comes to Erasmus+, as the hon. Lady well knows, we have a current programme that will run until 2021. The whole House had an opportunity to vote for the withdrawal agreement, not once, not twice, not three times; it had a fourth opportunity on Second Reading of the Bill, and a fifth on Third Reading. That withdrawal agreement protects our participation in the Erasmus+ scheme.

It absolutely does. It is not just the Government’s withdrawal agreement; it is the EU’s withdrawal agreement. Our determination to protect and stabilise our participation is crucial. It has been destabilised by other Opposition parties which have tried to vote down the withdrawal agreement over the past year or so. As for future negotiations, the Erasmus successor scheme, its protocols and its regulations have not yet been prepared. We do not know the overall cost of the programme, and we do not even know what it will look like. However, we will go into the negotiations in good faith, seeking to participate in that future Erasmus programme.