White Paper sets out Brexit position for HE, research

The United Kingdom government has announced its intention to facilitate mobility of students and research talent and “explore” continued participation in European Union science programmes post-Brexit in its White Paper setting out its position on the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

In the White Paper, Prime Minister Theresa May says the government sets out to “honour the result of the referendum” and deliver a “principled and practical Brexit that is in our national interest, and the UK’s and the EU’s mutual interest”.

There are numerous references to mobility of students and researchers and participation in EU research programmes.

The White Paper says the UK’s future economic partnership should provide reciprocal arrangements, consistent with the ending of free movement, that “facilitate mobility for students and young people, enabling them to continue to benefit from world leading universities and the cultural experiences the UK and the EU have to offer”.

These include “cultural exchanges such as Erasmus+”.

On EU research funding programmes, the UK government wishes to explore association in research and innovation programmes, including Horizon Europe, the Euratom Research and Training Programme, the Joint European Torus (JET) project and ITER.

Student mobility

The UK proposes a UK-EU youth mobility scheme, modelled on those it already has with other global partners, such as Australia and Canada.

The White Paper proposes a new UK-EU culture and education accord that provides for UK participation in EU programmes, and allows UK institutions to be partners, associates or advisers to EU projects and vice versa.

“The UK’s and the EU’s current education cooperation is centred around Erasmus+. The end of the implementation period coincides with the natural end of the scheme. The UK is open to exploring participation in the successor scheme,” the paper says.

Science and research cooperation

The White Paper also heavily references science and research cooperation.

It says the government believes the future relationship should include, within and beyond Europe’s borders, establishing cooperative accords for science and innovation, culture and education, development and international action, defence research and development, and space, “so that the UK and the EU can continue to work together in these areas, including through EU programmes, with the UK making an appropriate financial contribution”.

It proposes a defence research and capability accord that provides for UK participation in research elements of EU defence programmes as well as capability development aspects, important areas given that the UK’s defence research and development spending represents around 40% of the EU’s total.

The relationship should also provide for UK association with the Euratom Research and Training Programme, as part of an ambitious science and innovation accord, it says.

Mobility of scientists and researchers

The UK will also discuss how to facilitate temporary mobility of scientists and researchers in cooperative accords that provide for a more strategic approach than simply agreeing the UK’s participation in individual EU programmes on a case-by-case basis.

“The UK will continue to be an open and tolerant nation, and will want to continue to attract the brightest and best, from the EU and elsewhere. The UK’s future immigration arrangements will set out how those from the EU and elsewhere can apply to come and work in the UK,” the paper says. “This will be crucial to supporting its public services, as well as enhancing the UK’s attractiveness for research, development and innovation.”

Where the UK and the EU have an accord, the UK would make appropriate financial contributions.

“As a leader in the advancement of science and innovation, and a top-five collaboration partner for every EU member state, the UK plays a vital role in making Europe a base for pioneering research,” the paper says.

The UK therefore proposes that the future relationship includes a science and innovation accord that:
  • • Provides for UK participation in EU research funding programmes;

  • • Enables continued cooperation through joint participation in networks, infrastructure, policies and agencies which are to the UK’s and the EU’s joint benefit; and

  • • Establishes channels for regular dialogue between regulators, researchers and experts.
The paper notes that there are a range of precedents for participation by third countries in research funding programmes, which by their nature are unique to the participating country. For instance, 16 countries are associated with Horizon 2020 and Switzerland has an agreement on scientific and technical cooperation with Euratom.

To support cooperation, the paper says, the UK should seek to participate in specific policies and networks which benefit businesses, researchers, citizens and patients across the UK and the EU, including:
  • • The European Reference Networks, which support European cooperation and knowledge sharing related to clinical care and research on rare diseases;

  • • The European Research Infrastructure Consortia, two of which are currently hosted in the UK, the European Social Survey and Instruct-ERIC, which promotes innovation in biomedical science by making high-end technologies and methods in structural biology available to users.
Universities seek more details

Responding to the release of the White Paper, Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK International, said: “It is encouraging to see that the importance of attracting world-class researchers and international students has been acknowledged. We also welcome the UK’s proposed participation in Horizon Europe and the next Erasmus programme, which will benefit EU member states as well as the UK.

“We urge the government and the EU to engage and reach agreement on these matters as quickly as possible to provide the certainty that university students and staff need on opportunities to study abroad and collaborate in research.”

The Russell Group of elite research universities pressed for more detail and strong action to back up the proposals. In a statement on 12 July it said the October EU Council meeting will be a critical moment in the negotiations and a great deal of work will be needed to flesh out today’s proposals by this point.

“Clarity on the precise shape and nature of the proposed accords is urgent.”

It added that the government should not only “explore” UK participation in the Horizon Europe research programme, the successor to Horizon 2020, as set out in the White Paper, but should “actively seek full association, from the outset of the programme”.

On mobility of students and researchers, it said: “The White Paper recognises the importance of keeping the UK open and attractive to EU students and researchers once free movement has ended. We now need detail on how this will work in practice.

“With regard to those individuals coming from the EU to work or study for short periods, who will not be long-term migrants, the government should commit to a light-touch system, using the new IT platform developed for the registration of those EEA [European Economic Area] nationals covered by the settlement scheme.”

’Significant step’

National Union of Students Vice President for Higher Education Amatey Doku said the proposal for a UK-EU youth and student mobility scheme “is a significant step in the right direction, and shows that, at least on some level, there is willingness to take heed of warnings from the sector as to the damage which an end to mobility would cause”.

“Nevertheless there is still worryingly little information on what any long-term commitments would look like – that’s why we are calling for urgent clarity on the details of these proposals. Ultimately, the proof will be in the deal that is brought back to Parliament.”

The National Union of Students has called for a special immigration status for EU and UK students and academics, to ensure that they remain able to move across the EU freely for work and study.

It has also called for the UK to remain a full member of the Erasmus+ scheme and to secure a commitment that the UK will be a member of any similar schemes in the future.

Doku added: “We believe that whatever the deal looks like, our generation deserves the final say – which is why we are also demanding a People’s Vote on the final deal.”