Five top British universities have seen their European funding plunge since the UK was booted out of the EU’s flagship innovation programme following a bitter Brexit dispute. Horizon Europe is an £80billion funding pot that allows researchers to access grants and collaborate with European partners to work on a broad range of science projects, involving anything from climate change studies to artificial intelligence.
Before the furious Brexit back-and-forth erupted, the seven-year programme had been awarding grants to experts at top institutions, such as Oxford and Cambridge universities.
But the EU told the UK it cannot take part in Horizon until it resolves the Northern Ireland Protocol dispute. This is despite the UK negotiating to take part under under the Trade and Cooperation Agreement signed in 2020.
Now, it has been revealed that some of the most prestigious universities in the country have received just a drop in the ocean in European research funding compared to what they got before the UK’s departure from the EU under an earlier scheme, known as Horizon 2020.
The European Commission’s latest figures show that Cambridge University bagged €483million (£433million) under Horizon 2020. However, it has not received any funding in the first two years of the new Horizon Europe programme.
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Oxford University, which was awarded €523million (£466) from the earlier programme has only been given €2million (£1.78million) to date through Horizon Europe.
Meanwhile, University College London received €412million (£367million) through the earlier scheme, but only has netted €4million (£3.57million) through the latest programme.
Imperial College London got as much as €323 million (£288million) under Horizon 2020. Now its funding has been slashed to just €641,000 (£571,000).
Lastly, the University of Edinburgh’s €271million (£241million) pile of awarded cash has sunk to just €310,000 (£276,000) under Horizon Europe.
Simon Marginson, professor of higher education at Oxford, said: “For higher education and research, there are no new opportunities and no actual possible upsides from Brexit.”
Previously speaking to Express.co.uk, Shadow Science Minister Chi Onwurah warned about the devastating impact Brexit has had on British research.
She said: “This is the biggest science fund in the world and Brexit has just caused huge uncertainty, which is bad for British science and British business.
“Many businesses are collaborating with universities using Horizon funding on a huge range of projects from cancer research to the implementation of new discoveries. This is a huge ongoing impact [of Brexit].
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“Early career researchers would have benefited from these much-needed grants, and those who have won these grants are unable to take them up in the UK. The uncertainty means that researchers, scientists across the world are probably less keen on coming here.”
While UK-based researchers are technically not allowed to receive grants from the European Research Council due to the bloc, they can still apply for the grants and receive back-up funding from the Government until Britain is allowed to rejoin the programme.
But despite a national safety net unveiled by the Science Minister George Freeman which aims to replicate the EU funding, participation in Horizon Europe by UK companies, universities and individuals has still plummeted by half, European Commission figures have shown.
In fact, the UK used to account 6.8 percent of global participations. This has tumbled to just five percent, sending the UK from fifth to eighth in the league table of engagement.
Prof James Wilsdon, a researcher from UCL, told Express.co.uk: “On the UK side, lots of people have not been putting themselves forward for European funding because of the uncertainties.”
And while Britain is officially out of the programme due to the Brexit impasse, researchers and companies can still allowed to take part in so-called pillar 2 projects. This refers to the consortia tackling industrial and global challenges, accounting for the bulk of Horizon’s budget.
But Paul Boyle, vice chancellor of Swansea University, and a board member of Universities UK, said: “The scale of the drop in the UK’s participation in Horizon Europe is deeply concerning, both for UK universities and for European science as a whole.
“While the UKRI funding guarantee is helpful, researchers need and deserve more certainty about the long-term status of the UK in Horizon Europe.”
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