Access to research funding and Erasmus+

Research funding

The UK currently does disproportionately well in securing EU research funding and UK Universities are the top performers in receiving EU funds based on scientific excellence.574 Recent figures show that UK Universities receive over £836 million in research grants and contracts from EU sources, representing more than 14.2% of all income from research grants and contracts.575 Million+, The Russell Group and the British Heart Foundation said in their evidence to the House of Lords EU Committee inquiry on a no-deal Brexit that ‘no deal’ could stop the UK’s access to EU research funds and prevent UK collaboration in EU projects:576

MillionPlus argued that no deal would be “extremely damaging for UK universities and should be avoided if at all possible”. They cited in particular the reputational damage, deterrent effect and confusion that could arise from the designation of EU students as international students. No deal could also place existing EU-funded research projects in jeopardy.

The Russell Group concluded that no deal would affect universities’ ability to deliver world-leading research and education. No deal on the rights of EU citizens to live, study and work in the UK could lead to a loss of talented researchers and technicians with specialist skills who could not be replaced easily by UK nationals. If the UK and EU did not secure an agreement on science and research collaboration, UK institutions would cease to be eligible for Horizon 2020 funding on the day of exit. This would mean funding for existing projects would be withdrawn and researchers would immediately lose the ability to bid for this funding, with a detrimental impact on international competitiveness.

The British Heart Foundation also noted that the EU was a major funder of UK research, and helped to promote international collaboration. Uncertainty about what could happen to UK access to Horizon 2020 funding after March 2019 could discourage EU researchers from approaching British counterparts to collaborate on projects. They too expressed concern about the reputational damage caused by uncertainty over the status of EU researchers and healthcare professionals in the UK.

In October 2017 EU Commissioner Carlos Moedas also said that ‘no deal’ could result in the UK losing EU funding from the date of withdrawal from the EU:

574 The Royal Society, UK research and the European Union, December 2015

575 Figures for 2014-15. See Economic Impact on the UK of Research Funding to UK Universities, Report to Universities UK, May 2016. For further information on Erasmus+, see Commons Briefing Paper 8326, The Erasmus Programme, 20 June 2018.

576 House of Lords paper 46. Brexit: Deal or no deal, 7 December 2017

“For research, ‘no deal’ means programmes could potentially stop with barriers erected in ongoing projects, and significant projects and programmes terminated or not initiated”

Million+ 25 October 2017


Until the UK leaves, its researchers, universities, organisations, and companies are eligible to participate and receive funding in Horizon 2020.

But the eligibility criteria must be complied with for the entire duration of the grant. This is why it was important to be transparent and inform UK-based applicants now that if the UK withdraws from the EU without concluding a withdrawal agreement they may be required to leave the project and no longer receive funding.577

The Russell Group have further warned of the dangers of no deal on international research competitiveness:

A sudden cliff-edge in research funding from the EU will have a serious impact on our universities’ international competitiveness in research. It is already the case that talented researchers at our universities are being approached by universities in other European countries with offers of academic contracts, so a sudden loss of access to EU research programmes in the UK could motivate many to relocate.578

The Government guidance published on 23 August provides further information in “Horizon 2020 funding if there’s a Brexit no deal”.


On the 30 May 2018 the EU Commission announced that for the funding cycle starting in 2021 any country in the world would be able to participate in the Erasmus+ programme if they met set requirements. It is possible, therefore, that in the event of ‘no deal’ the UK might still be able to access the Erasmus+ programme, provided the UK meets criteria for admission to the scheme.579

The Government guidance published on 23 August 2018 includes a paper, “Erasmus+ in the UK if there’s no Brexit deal”, which gives some information on no deal implications for studying in the EU or the UK.

On 30 January 2019 the European Commission proposed a Regulation laying down provisions for the continuation of ongoing learning mobility activities under the Erasmus+ programme. The EM states:

If the Withdrawal Agreement is not ratified, it would mean that the current EU-27 and UK Erasmus+ participants would have to interrupt their learning mobility activities. Many students would lose their academic credits and could be obliged to repeat their academic semester or year. This would be a very disruptive impact for students themselves as well as for their sending and hosting institutions. This proposal aims to put in place contingency measures to avoid the

577 Holyrood, Brexit ‘no deal’ will rip up university research funding, warns European Commission, 26 October

578 Lords EU Committee, Brexit: Deal or no deal, 7 December 2017, Written evidence from Russell Group (DND0044)

579 In its proposal for the Erasmus+ programme for the period 2021-27, published on 30 May, the European Commission said that countries outside the EU and the EEA would be able to participate fully as long as they do not have a “decisional power” on the programme and agree to a “fair balance” of contributions and benefits. Any agreement with third countries would include “the calculation of financial contributions to individual programmes and their administrative costs”. See Erasmus+ exchange programme set to open to all countries in 2021, Times Higher Education, 31 May 2018.

disruption of Erasmus+ learning mobility activities involving the United Kingdom at the time of its withdrawal from the European Union. These measures will be applied to Erasmus+ ongoing learning mobility activities starting before the date on which the Treaties cease to apply to and in the United Kingdom.

EU students

‘No deal’ could potentially result in EU students being re-classified as international students, being charged higher fees and denied access to student support. Million+ have said that a “‘no deal’ which resulted in EU students being treated as international students would have a very significant and negative impact on EU student mobility and the EU market”.580

EU staff in UK universities

EU staff represent 16% of the academic workforce.581 Million+ has said that a no-deal could result in EU staff leaving UK universities and that this would have a particularly damaging effect on university foreign

language and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) departments:

The situation would be even starker for EU staff, as their legal status would be in question and their rights not guaranteed. It would be difficult to make any claim to say they will definitely be able to stay in the UK to work, if indeed they then still wanted to. Any significant loss in EU staff, through voluntary means or otherwise, would disproportionately impact on certain key subjects, like foreign languages and STEM courses, as EU staff make up significant proportions of staff in those subject areas. It would also, as for students, damage the effective running of institutions and the image and reputation of the sector. This would be particularly concerning at a time when the UK is already being seen as less open than its competitor nations, and when it is losing international market share to direct competitors like Australia and Canada.582

The Russell Group has also warned about the damaging effect of a loss of highly qualified EU staff:

If EU staff were required to meet current Tier 2-style visa conditions in the absence of an agreement which guarantees their rights to stay, our analysis shows that nearly a quarter of existing EU staff (over 6,000 people) at Russell Group universities would not be eligible to work in the UK. This includes a significant number of staff with postgraduate, doctoral and other higher degrees (over 2,100 individuals). This would be a great loss for the UK’s science base and one that could take many years, and probably decades, to rebuild. It is certainly not the case that EU staff at Russell Group universities could be replaced easily by UK nationals (particularly in the short term) as they are unlikely to have the specialist skills, expertise and

580 House of Lords paper 46. Brexit: Deal or no deal, 7 December 2017, Written evidence MillionPlus (DND0013)

581 Universities UK submission to the House of Commons Education Committee inquiry on ‘The impact of exiting the European Union on higher education’, November 2016.

582 Ibid


experience to match those brought to the UK by excellent European academics.


583 House of Lords paper 46. Brexit: Deal or no deal, 7 December 2017, written evidence – Russell Group (DND0044)

Share this article