Brexit Devastates UK Universities’ Research Funding: Top Academics Flee to Europe

Cambridge University, one of the UK’s most esteemed institutions, has suffered a devastating blow as its funding from a major European research program has plummeted from £62 million a year to nothing after Brexit. The latest figures from the European Commission show that Cambridge, which received €483 million (£433 million) over the seven years of Horizon 2020, has not received a single penny in the first two years of the new Horizon Europe program.

Oxford University, which won €523 million from the earlier program, has only been awarded €2 million to date from Horizon Europe. This funding is crucial to UK universities as it enables research collaborations with institutions across Europe and brings international prestige.

Brexit has resulted in a “historic error of monumental proportions” according to Simon Marginson, a professor of higher education at Oxford. He went on to say that the new data on Cambridge and Oxford, usually the top performers in Europe, is “very worrying.” The losses reach beyond money, with the UK becoming less attractive to high-quality European researchers and students.

Many academics are now leaving the UK due to the political wrangling and uncertainty surrounding the government’s ability to protect their vital European research partnerships. EU students coming to UK universities have more than halved since Brexit, and fewer European lecturers are applying for jobs.

Professors Augusta McMahon, Paul Pharoah, and Gáspár Jékely are just a few examples of talented researchers who have left UK universities due to the lack of security around European collaborations and funding. In April last year, the European Research Council gave 150 grant winners in the UK two months to decide whether to move with their grant to a European institution or lose the funding. In the end, one in eight left the UK.

This trend of losing talented researchers is likely to continue, says Vassiliki Papatsiba, an education expert at Cardiff University. “Nearly 50% of ERC UK-based grant winners are nationals of a different country, so that would predispose them to outward mobility,” she said.

In conclusion, Brexit has dealt a devastating blow to the UK’s universities, resulting in the loss of funding, prestige, and talented researchers. The government’s guarantee to cover all successful Horizon Europe grants applied for by the end of March is not enough to stem the tide of those leaving the UK.

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