Brexit has had a huge impact on the UK’s higher education and research sector, and the latest figures from the European Commission paint a worrying picture. Cambridge and Oxford, two of the UK’s most prestigious universities, have seen their funding from the European research programme Horizon 2020 plummet from £62m a year to nothing since Brexit. Now, with the UK’s associate membership of the new Horizon Europe programme in doubt, researchers and students are leaving the UK for other countries.
Cambridge University, which netted €483m (£433m) over the seven years of the last European research funding programme, Horizon 2020, has not received any funding in the first two years of the new Horizon Europe programme. Oxford, which won €523m from the earlier programme, has only been awarded €2m to date from Horizon Europe. This is a huge blow to the UK’s higher education and research sector, as European research funding enables research collaborations with institutions across Europe and carries considerable international prestige.
Simon Marginson, professor of higher education at Oxford, described Brexit as a “historic error of monumental proportions” and said the new data on Oxford and Cambridge was “very worrying”. Professor Augusta McMahon, an archaeologist specialising in the Middle East, left Cambridge University after 26 years to return to Chicago University, citing Brexit uncertainty as a big factor. Professor Paul Pharoah, who researches the genetic epidemiology of ovarian and breast cancer, left Cambridge after 26 years at the end of last year and now works at Cedars Sinai hospital in Los Angeles.
The government has guaranteed it will cover all successful Horizon Europe grants applied for by the end of March, but many academics are leaving the UK, saying they no longer believe their vital European research partnerships will be protected. Gáspár Jékely, a German professor of neuroscience who was based at Exeter University, started work at Heidelberg University last week, taking his high-cachet European Research Council (ERC) advanced grant with him.
The lack of security around European collaborations and funding is forcing talented researchers and students to leave the UK, and the impact of Brexit on the UK’s higher education and research sector is clear. With the number of EU students coming to UK universities more than halving since Brexit, and fewer European lecturers applying for jobs here, the future of the UK’s higher education and research sector is uncertain.