UK to stay in Horizon Europe but drop out of Erasmus+

United Kingdom and European universities welcomed the UK’s decision to participate in the European Union’s €95.5 billion (US$117.3 billion) research and innovation programme, Horizon Europe, which was clarified by the terms of the recently announced future trade and cooperation agreement between the UK and the European Union.

But they voiced deep disappointment at the decision to drop out of Erasmus+, the student and academic staff study abroad and mobility programme.

UK students will no longer be able to study at a European university with an Erasmus+ grant from 1 January, and European students will not be supported by Erasmus+ to study in UK universities either.

In a joint statement, the European University Association (EUA) and Universities UK said they welcome the UK plan to associate with Horizon Europe, “which is fundamental to continued international collaboration between universities”, but voiced regret that the UK does not plan to continue to be part of the Erasmus Programme.

Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK International (UUKi), said: “UUKi welcomes the deal and is keen to ensure that UK universities will be able to maintain their close ties with their European partners. We look forward to continuing our research collaborations in Horizon Europe.”

She said UUKi is “deeply disappointed” that no agreement was reached on Erasmus+, but “we look forward to working with EU partners through the UK’s newly announced Turing Scheme, which will continue to support student exchange”.

The £100 million (US$136.4 million) Turing Scheme is scheduled to start in September 2021.

The EUA, representing more than 800 members across the continent, said it will continue to strive for dialogue and solidarity and for working together to promote research, education, innovation and culture from the Caspian Sea to the North Atlantic, and it hoped to use the agreement to secure long-term solutions that keep the UK close to its partners in the EU and in the rest of Europe.

Amanda Crowfoot, secretary general of the European University Association, said: “The deal brings much-needed certainty for cooperation between universities across Europe and their UK partners.”

The agreement on trade and cooperation between the UK and European Union post-Brexit was first announced on 24 December, ending months of fractious negotiations, but the full text of the agreement was posted online several days later. It will mean that from 1 January the UK will operate outside the EU customs union and single market.

Key changes for universities

For universities the key changes coming into effect are that:

• From 1 January the freedom of movement between EU member states and the UK will end, affecting the freedom of UK academics and researchers to work in EU member states and vice versa, and a points system for immigration will be enforced in the UK.

• Under the deal, UK universities will participate in key programmes including Horizon Europe, the flagship EU research programme, which is the successor to Horizon 2020, subject to the UK paying a financial contribution.

• The UK will not be participating in Erasmus+, the student and staff exchange and study scheme.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, speaking from No 10 Downing Street, said the trade deal was the biggest yet, worth £660 billion (US$900 billion).

He said: “We have taken back control of laws and our destiny. We have taken back control of every jot and tittle of our regulation.”

President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “We now have a fair and balanced agreement with the UK. Finally, we can leave Brexit behind us and look to the future. Europe is now moving on.”

Johnson said the UK will now be able “to set our own standards, to innovate in the way that we want, to originate new frameworks for the sectors in which this country leads the world, from biosciences to financial services, artificial intelligence and beyond”.

He declared that, among many other things, the deal “means certainty for our scientists who will be able to continue to work together on great collective projects”.

‘Collaborative science superpower’

“Although we want the UK to be a science superpower, we also want to be a collaborative science superpower,” Johnson said.

The prime minister added that “although we have left the EU, this country will remain culturally, emotionally, historically, strategically and geologically attached to Europe”.

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator on the post-Brexit deal, said the UK decided not to participate in the Erasmus exchange programme after the UK baulked at the cost.

Johnson argued that the UK would pay higher costs than other countries due to the larger number of EU nationals studying in the UK, which makes the scheme “extremely expensive”.

The scheme’s contribution to developing a European identity would not have appealed to hard-line Brexiteers who dominate Johnson’s cabinet either.

However, one Whitehall official told University World News, on condition of anonymity, that the Erasmus+ programme would be too costly to replicate independently.

Stern said post-Brexit a key concern is to ensure that the UK remains an attractive study option for European students and that the deal lays the foundation for continued cooperation.

She said the Erasmus+ alternative, the Turing Scheme, should be “ambitious and fully funded” and “deliver significant opportunities for future students to go global, which the Erasmus Programme has provided to date”.

But she said the confirmation of continued participation in Horizon Europe is “fantastic news for the scientific community on both sides of the Channel, which will allow universities in all regions of the UK to grow the scale and impact of international research collaboration, innovation and partnerships”.

Certainty welcomed

Dr Tim Bradshaw, CEO of the Russell Group, comprising the UK’s leading research universities, welcomed the UK-EU deal for “the certainty it gives our members, staff and students and international partners”.

He said: “This agreement provides a good basis for a strong ongoing relationship with the EU, facilitating collaboration with our nearest neighbours. At the same time, we look forward to the opportunity of trade deals and research partnerships beyond Europe.

“Our world-leading universities have a strong role to play in delivering a truly Global Britain.”

In addition to Horizon Europe, the UK will participate in four other EU programmes open to third-country participation, namely: the EURATOM Research and Training Programme, ITER (fusion test facility), Copernicus Programme (earth monitoring system), and access to EU Space Surveillance and Tracking services.

However, further negotiations are needed to formally associate with the programme, the level at which Switzerland, Norway and 14 other non-EU countries participate in Horizon 2020, which is superseded by Horizon Europe on 1 January. Associate country participants enjoy many of the rights enjoyed by EU members. Negotiations for associate member status are expected to take a number of months.

For EU programmes, the UK’s financial contribution will consist of an annual operational fee and a participation fee set at 4% of the annual operational fee. The operational fee will be based on the ratio of the value of the UK’s GDP to the GDP of the EU.

There is a proviso for the EU to unilaterally suspend UK participation in any programme on 45 days’ notice if the UK does not pay its financial contribution, or if the UK introduces significant changes to certain conditions, including “conditions for entry and residence in the UK of the persons that are involved in the implementation of these programmes and activities, or parts thereof, including students, researchers, trainees or volunteers”.

This shall apply, in particular, if the United Kingdom introduces a change in its domestic laws for the conditions for entry and residence in the UK for these persons, which discriminates between member states.

Another trigger for suspension would be if there is a change in financial charges, including fees, applicable to students and researchers involved in the programme.

But the UK can also suspend participation at 45 days’ notice if conditions change, such as the financial contribution rising by 15% or if the UK is excluded from more than 10% of the programme.

According to an overview of the consequences and benefits of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement published by the EU, two of the ‘consequences’ for the UK are that there will be no more automatic recognition of professional qualifications: doctors, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, vets, engineers or architects must have their qualifications recognised in each member state they wish to practise in; and UK nationals no longer have the freedom to work, study, start a business or live in the EU.