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Brexit: Horizon 2020 and Erasmus

Volume 773: debated on Thursday 7 July 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of the outcome of the referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union on the short-term and long-term participation of UK universities in Horizon 2020 research collaborations and the Erasmus Programme.

My Lords, the referendum result has no immediate effect on the right of researchers to apply for or participate in Horizon 2020, nor on those currently participating in or about to embark on Erasmus exchanges. The future of UK access to European research and innovation funding and to the Erasmus programme will be determined as part of wider discussions with the EU.

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, but is she aware that, in spite of similar reassurances given by the Minister of State for Universities and Science in the other place, there is already anecdotal evidence of researchers being asked to stand down from European programmes, particularly when they are the lead researcher? This is hard for all researchers in all areas, but particularly so for those in some of the more niche areas, such as—one that I know quite well—the science associated with cultural heritage, where we have global influence but depend very much indeed on European money to fund these programmes. They bring many talented young people over to this country on exchanges of one sort or another, partly under the Erasmus programme, partly under the Marie Curie programme. If we are not able to pursue this research, it will hit the UK’s soft power influence very substantially. Is the Minister aware of these difficulties that are likely to arise and how the Swiss example means that, unless we keep freedom of movement, associated status will be of no value?

I can certainly reassure the noble Baroness that Ministers are in close contact with Commissioner Moedas on the issue, particularly around Horizon 2020, and we are being vigilant about any problems that may start to emerge in the area. But, as I have said, UK organisations can continue to participate in Horizon 2020 under the same terms and conditions as currently, and should not be discriminated against; we will of course maintain a watch on this. We are in very close contact with the university sector and, as I have said, with the Commissioners.

According to a recent THE review, more than 18 universities will lose more than 50% of their grant funding from EU sources. This affects not just the major universities, such as Cambridge and Oxford, but the whole range. In addition, substantial reductions in taught postgraduate courses will happen. Does it make sense, given the tsunami that is approaching us, for the Government to continue with their radical proposals to reorganise research structures in the new HE Bill?

We believe that the current uncertainty makes it even more vital that we have a stable and robust regulatory framework to ensure that our world-class research base can maintain its position internationally. The Bill will put in place a framework to maintain our status; UKRI—the new body—will facilitate more multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research and enable us to keep up with emerging economies. It is critical at this time that we provide the stability that the university sector is looking for.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a visitor to a number of colleges in Cambridge. In my conversations with the vice-chancellors of both Cambridge University and Anglia Ruskin University, which is in Cambridge, not only were they very concerned that there was a risk of losing £500 million of research funding for Cambridge and for the Russell group universities but—rather than the money—they were much more concerned about soft diplomacy and the free movement of scholars, which may be affected in the future. The vice-chancellor of Anglia Ruskin tells me that it is doing some very important research with a university in Portugal on earthquake studies—perhaps, by analogy, useful to us at the moment—and that this research could be in jeopardy. Can the Minister give us some assurance that there will be attention both to the soft power and soft diplomacy that needs to be assured and to how such research, with its real importance to vulnerable communities, will be sustained into the future?

Of course the Government and I entirely understand the concerns of the sector. We have a world-class higher education sector and we want to support it and make sure that it is able to maintain its footing as the best in the world. That is why we will work extremely closely with the sector throughout the coming months and years to make sure that we provide the support, its voice is heard, and we do all we can to maintain it.

My Lords, it is the turn of either the Cross Benches or the Conservative Benches. We will go to the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, and I hope we can get in a Conservative next.

Thank you. Will the Minister acknowledge the vital importance of the Erasmus programme for the funding of the third-year abroad element of modern language degrees, especially when the shortage of MFL teachers will be even more acute because of the Government’s EBacc target? How will the Government plug the Erasmus gap both for outgoing UK students and for the incoming Erasmus students from the EU who supply our schools with foreign language assistants?

The referendum result does not affect students studying in the EU, those currently on Erasmus, or those considering applying in 2017, and payments will be made in the usual way. Our future access will of course be a matter for negotiations.