Brexit may spark brain drain as EU threatens research funding

·2-min read
The EU has warned funding may now be pulled (Getty Images/Image Source)
The EU has warned funding may now be pulled (Getty Images/Image Source)

Brexit may spark a brain drain of talent from UK universities after the EU has threatened to pull funding due to the issues sparked over the Northern Ireland protocol.

As a result of tense Brexit relations, the European Research Council (ERC) has warned 98 scientists who recently received €172million (£145million), their funding may now be in jeopardy.

In the letter, the ERC said if the UK’s membership of the Horizon Europe programme is not ratified, the academics will not be able to access the money, The Guardian reports.

Due to the uncertainty of future EU funding, some have even rejected grants in order to apply for money from a future UK scheme, the Government has promised to create.

Ethan Ilzetzki, an associate professor in economics at the London School of Economics, said talented academics from the US may now head elsewhere if the money is pulled.

He said: “Higher education institutions on the continent are salivating at the prospect of poaching this talent higher education will be hurt for years to come if this isn’t resolved.”

Payam Gammage, a scientist at the Beatson Institute at Glasgow University, said: “It is a strange choice for the EU. The UK isn’t going to notice it immediately.

“It will take a long time to have any impact. All that happens is a bunch of scientists have a lot of opportunities taken away, or their lives just made a lot more difficult. We’re the only victims.”

Ratification of the UK associate membership of the Horizon Europe, the EU’s €95.5billion (£80billion) innovation and research programme, has been delayed due to the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol.

While the two agreed to continue scientific partnership and an associate membership of the flagship programme during Brexit negotiations, it has not been agreed due to continued issues with the protocol, and the threats to scrap the procedure entirely.

The ERC president, professor Maria Leptin, said she was “fervently hoping” that UK-EU negotiations would be finalised and “result in association” with Horizon Europe.

“Our letters to grantees had to point out the option for portability of the grant outside the UK, but nobody here has any wish at all to entice anyone to leave the UK,” she said.

The UK Government, announced an extension to funding last month for UK applicants to Horizon Europe, while negotiations continue.

Science, Research and Innovation Minister George Freeman: “Since becoming Science Minister last year, my priority has been supporting the UK’s world-class researchers, which is why we have been so determined in our efforts to associate to Horizon Europe.

“Whilst it is disappointing that our association is still held up by the EU, our plans to develop ambitious alternative measures are well underway and I’m pleased Horizon Europe applicants in the UK will still be able to access funding through our guarantee, meaning that researchers will be well-supported whatever the outcome.”

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