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“Total uncertainty” ahead for UK’s Erasmus and Horizon participation

Members of the House of Lords highlighted the “total uncertainty” ahead for the Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020 programs, while others warned of the implications of a no-deal Brexit, in a debate in the UK Parliament on Monday.

The government is preparing for every eventuality in Brexit, Viscount Leckie told members of the Lords on Monday. Photo: parliament TV

"Press the government to do all it can to prepare to mitigate consequences"

A February 2019 report by the House of Lords EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee, calling for clarification on the two programs, will receive an official government response “shortly”, according to Viscount Younger of Leckie.

“There is total uncertainty about the way forward”

Introducing the debate, chair of the committee Lord Jay of Ewelme emphasised the group’s conclusion that the UK “make every effort” to remain involved in the Erasmus and Horizon programs.

The EU’s 2021-27 draft regulation provides full or partial access to these programs to third country members, he said, although it has been noted that the UK will not be able to start negotiation to gain associated status until it has left the EU.

“Whatever the terms of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, it’s in our mutual interest to receive current levels of UK/EU cooperation on research and innovation in providing opportunities for young people and teachers to study, work and train abroad,” he added.

Prime minister Theresa May has shown “tenacity in sticking with” with her deal, Lord Jay noted, which ratified, could see the programs continue largely unchanged until the end of 2020 – an “encouraging conclusion, though the end of 2020 is alarmingly close”, Lord Jay explained.

A no-deal would be “much trickier”, he said.

Warning against the impact a no-deal scenario may have on Erasmus and Horizon+ programs, Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe urged her fellow members to “press the government to do all it can to prepare to mitigate consequences” of no-deal Brexit.

She requested clarification on four points.

The government must commit to both an alternative to Marie Skłodowska Curie and European Research Council funding in the case of a no-deal, and funding opportunities for UK students in “limbo” who want to study abroad in 2019/20 if Erasmus is unavailable.

Baroness Undercliffe also requested confirmation on what will happen to researchers who are in the middle of grant preparation process, and the fee status of EU students to study in the UK in 2020.

“The government…will ensure students and institutions will have the information they need”

“We still don’t know what universities should tell prospective EU students,” she said.

Applications for courses starting in 2021, don’t open until September 2019, Viscount Leckie noted.

“The government is aware of [the approaching deadline] and will ensure students and institutions will have the information they need in advance of that date,” he said.

Any hopes Baroness Garden of Frognal had that the minister could “give some plans beyond 2020… [and] give the longer-term assurances which we all wish to see” were dashed when Viscount Leckie said he could offer “no guarantees” during the debate.

Assurances have been “modest and time-limited”, she added, and “there is total uncertainty about the way forward”.

It remains “too early to make an informed decision about our future participation”, Viscount Leckie explained to his colleagues in the chamber.

However, in the event of a no-deal, the government will underwrite funding for successful bids submitted to Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020 by the end of 2020, Viscount Leckie noted.

“Erasmus is not the only way that students can travel abroad”, Viscount Leckie said, adding UUK evidence suggests around half of mobilities already take place outside the program.

The government is developing a range of options regarding domestic funding alternatives, although the government needs to “carefully balance the support on international ability and ensuring value for money”.

He also argued that European partners see the UK as “one of the most attractive collaborators for research and innovation” and a “partner of choice” across the continent, indicating the demand for EU counterparts to continue involving the UK in the Horizon program.

“There is simply no upside for UK science from Brexit”

Future updates will be provided to the research community in “due course”, he said.

Lord Krebs labelled the Horizon program the “most mature and effective international scientific program in the world”.

“There is simply no upside for UK science from Brexit”, he said, noting that the Wellcome Trust has seen a 14% drop for research fellowships from Europe, while the Wellcome Sanger Institute Cambridge has a 50% drop in PhD places by EU nationals.

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