It is currently impossible to avoid the media attention being focused on the decision facing the UK population on 23 June 2016 and we even have the obligatory ‘snappy’ term coined on such an occasion – ‘Brexit’.
As part of the build-up to the referendum, Universities UK have launched the ‘Universities for Europe’ campaign expressing their support for retaining EU membership and our own Vice-Chancellor, Prof Malcolm Press, was one of the 103 signatories of an open letter published in the Sunday Times highlighting the negative impact that an exit from the EU could have on UK universities.
Manchester Met is currently involved in European research funded by the EU, with the potential to make a real difference to people’s lives in areas ranging from therapies for degenerative diseases to the sustainable management of the fisheries sector and from sustainable use of energy and reuse of textiles to innovative social investment and young people’s participation in cities. Like other UK universities our researchers benefit greatly from the ability to collaborate on an international scale through programmes like Horizon 2020.
What happens to our future involvement in Horizon 2020 if we vote to leave the EU?
Focusing on the very practical aspect of European research funding through programmes such as Horizon 2020, if we vote to retain our EU membership it will be business as usual with full funding and no restrictions on participation. But what happens in the event of a ‘Brexit’?
There are two main options open, but we are dealing with many unknowns.
There is the option to become an Associated Country, where we can negotiate our involvement in programmes such as Horizon 2020 on a funded basis. However, concerns are being raised about how some of the other features of a ‘Brexit’ might impact on what this option might look like. (Ed – Janet Beer (Vice-Chancellor of Liverpool and vice-president of UUK) writing in Research Professional provides an interesting review, which includes some of the potential challenges to be faced).
There is also the option to engage as a Third Country. However, given the UK’s relative prosperity the default will be that this is on an unfunded basis similar to countries like USA, Canada and Australia. Unlike these countries we do not have the mechanisms in place currently to provide national funding to support participation, so the ability of UK universities to participate could be curtailed (possibly significantly) – at least in the short term.
Parallels are being drawn with the situation that Switzerland has experienced in gaining access to Horizon 2020 following the outcome of their referendum in 2014 limiting freedom of movement. A recent interview with Philippe Moreillon (Vice Rector at the University of Lausanne) in Research Professional provides an interesting insight of what challenges the UK could face as an unfunded Third Country.
It’s highly unlikely that the vote on 23 June will be decided on our ability to participate in Horizon 2020 (Ed – even the most hardened H2020 obsessive would struggle to argue to the contrary!), but it is a small yet practical illustration of how things could change for UK universities and researchers.