North West university leaders have warned of the risks a no deal Brexit could bring for academic research in the UK.
Professor Dame Janet Beer and Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell – vice-chancellors of the University of Liverpool and the University of Manchester respectively – are among those voicing concerns that the scenario could lead to “an academic, cultural and scientific setback from which it would take decades to recover”.
Universities UK, the Russel Group, Guild HE, Million Plus and University Alliance, which collectively represent more than 150 million higher education providers across the UK, have written an open letter to MPs voicing concerns over the “significant uncertainty” faced by 50,000 EU staff and 130,000 EU students as well as 15,000 UK students studying in Europe.
The letter, which calls on the government to “demonstrate the required ambition, put the right measures and guarantees in place, and, crucially, avoid the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal on 29 March,” adds: “Vital research links will be compromised, from new cancer treatments to technologies combatting climate change.
“The valuable exchange of students, staff and knowledge would be seriously damaged. And we share the concerns of business about the impact of no deal on everything from supply chains to security and travel.”
Professor Dame Beer is president of Universities UK, which is concerned over the loss of European Research Council (ERC) and Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) funding that the UK would become ineligible for in the event of no deal.
According to the organisation, the UK is currently the most successful country hosting ERC grantees and both funding schemes will be worth an estimated €1.3 billion to the UK of the next two years.
Professor Dame Beer says: “We are home to one of the best research systems in the world, attractive to stellar academics, top students and global partnerships, and we must not let this be compromised by a no deal Brexit. Time is running out to make decisions on issues which will ultimately affect the country and society as a whole.
“While we welcome the assurances that the government has already provided about the continuation of Horizon 2020 funding in a no deal scenario, it is critical that similar guarantees are extended, without delay, to cover ERC and MSCA funding.
“Without cast-iron assurances, world-leading academics and researchers may leave for countries where access to ERC funding is not at risk, and those currently considering relocating to the UK may think again.”
Professor Dame Rothwell, vice-chancellor of the University of Manchester, adds: “University research is at the forefront of scientific and medical breakthroughs and many are only possible through EU research collaborations, on projects led by UK universities.
“At the University of Manchester, vital and transformative research programmes risk being disrupted, such as our work on proton-beam therapy for cancer patients, which allows more precise targeting of tumour sites and minimises damage to surrounding tissue, and our Nobel-prize winning work on graphene, the strongest, thinnest and most versatile material ever identified.
“Leaving the EU without a deal would be a serious setback for these fields of discovery and many more, from the arts and social sciences to engineering and nuclear research. Researchers who have already spent months or even years preparing funding bids would be left high and dry, including those whose application would be stuck in the middle of the evaluation process.”