Avoid research funding cliff-edge

06 March 2019

Dr Tim Bradshaw has written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP, ahead of the Spring Statement to warn against a damaging no-deal cliff-edge for research funding.

The Chancellor should take the Spring Statement as opportunity to secure future of UK science, research and education. No-deal contingency measures for research must be fully backed by the finance needed and the Government must compensate for the loss of access to vital funding Horizon 2020 funding streams - such as the ERC - so that UK science and research does not lose out in a no-deal scenario.

Making these commitments would support the Government’s commitment to boost spending on research and development to 2.4% and provide the funding required to back UK science, research and education.

Full letter text:

Dear Chancellor,

When you deliver your Spring Statement in a few days’ time, the country will be facing a Brexit crossroads. Either the Prime Minister’s Deal will have been supported by Parliament and we will be looking to begin discussions around our future relationship with our neighbours. Or MPs will be preparing to vote on No Deal and, possibly, extending Article 50.

In either scenario, the UK is set to lose some of its international competitive advantage on science and research. A no-deal Brexit would mean our access to the Horizon 2020 Programme for research will be reduced with immediate effect. Even if a deal can be reached, significant uncertainty remains about UK access to its successor programme Horizon Europe, or possible alternatives. Similarly, the UK would be at a significant disadvantage in support for essential academic and student mobility without access to the Erasmus+ Programme.

Whilst no-deal Brexit remains a credible risk, we need contingency measures which are ready for immediate implementation so that research funding and collaboration opportunities do not face a damaging cliff-edge. The Government’s Horizon 2020 Underwrite Guarantee and Post EU Exit Guarantee Extension have been welcome announcements, but the key element missing is the finance to make them work.

The Government has been very clear about its ambitions for a close relationship with the EU on science, education and research post-Brexit, for which you have our full support. In your Spring Statement it would therefore be helpful if you could confirm the following:

Funding commitments for short-term no-deal contingency measures:

  • That the costs of UK involvement in ongoing projects in Horizon 2020 will be covered in full and that there will be an allocation of new money (i.e. not taken from the existing science and research resource budget) to the Horizon 2020 Underwrite Guarantee to back this.
  • Whether the Underwrite Guarantee will also make funding available to cover project proposals that are ‘in flight’ (i.e. submitted before Brexit but not yet given approval) for both the Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ Programmes, assuming they can be approved by appropriate peer review in the UK.
  • The amount of funding which will be made available for the UK to continue to access other parts of Horizon 2020 as a third country under the Post EU Exit Guarantee Extension.
  • The additional new money that will be made available to compensate for UK exclusion from the ‘monobeneficiary’ streams of Horizon 2020. If we leave without a deal, the UK will automatically become a third country and lose access to important funding opportunities – in particular the ERC, MSCA and SME instruments. These actions of Horizon 2020 support the highest quality and most impactful research that benefits both our economy and society. These are also the most successful parts of the programme in terms of grants won for the UK because of their focus on excellence. These vital funding streams must be replaced in the event of no deal.
  • What additional new funding will be made available to either maintain access to the Erasmus+ programme or create a parallel funding stream for the UK.

Funding commitments for excellent research post-2020

  • Deal or no deal, it would be timely to make a firm commitment that funding will be allocated for the UK’s full association to Horizon Europe from 2021 onwards (provided it is excellence-focused and subject to negotiating an association agreement). This would send a strong signal of reassurance to UK universities and businesses and support the Government’s commitment to boost spending on R&D to 2.4% by 2027.
  • In a scenario where the UK is unable to (or decides not to) associate to Horizon Europe, it is important that the Government has an agreed contingency commitment in place. This should set out how resources, at least equivalent to what we would have expected to win from Horizon Europe, will be allocated for a fully-funded alternative research scheme and which will seek to replicate the benefits of EU mechanisms such as the ERC.

We understand the time constraints are tight. The details for future EU programmes will take many months to finalise and our association risks not being agreed right from the start. If the UK has to take steps to establish its own initiatives, then this will take even longer. In both cases the UK will lose ground with its competitors and may also face a significant brain drain if we cannot provide adequate interim funding to support the sort of excellent research and student/staff mobility that remains available to EU members.

We hope, therefore, that you will be able to provide new funding to back the very best of UK science, research and education and ensure the country not just maintains, but continues to grow, both its well-deserved international reputation in these areas and the resulting jobs and investment this brings to the UK.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Tim Bradshaw

Chief Executive, Russell Group

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