Leaked UK Gov bid to ditch EU research funding would be ‘devastating’ for Wales’ universities
A bid by the UK Government to walk away from EU research funding would be “devastating” for Wales’ universities, a Welsh party leader has warned.
A paper leaked to the Daily Mail and Telegraph today has shown ministers are planning to walk away from three major EU research programmes: Horizon Europe, Copernicus and Euratom.
Lord Frost, the Brexit minister, has allegedly been working with Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business Secretary, to create a British alternative called ‘Discovery Fund’.
But Jane Dodds, the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, warned that any such move could leave Wales’ higher education and research sector on a financial cliff edge.
Horizon Europe is the EU’s flagship funding programme for research and innovation with a budget of over €95 billion. Wales had previously secured €139 million of Horizon 2020 funding since the start of the programme.
It had been hoped the UK could continue to maintain access to the scheme via the Horizon Europe association programme which sees non-EU states like Norway and Turkey access funding.
Commenting on the developments, Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds MS said that the “brinkmanship” being displayed by the Conservative Government was “shameful”.
“It represents an unacceptable risk to the higher education and research sector in Wales, as well as the long-term stability of the Welsh economy as a whole,” she said.
“While the Tories have stated they would replace funding with a domestic programme if they exit Horizon, how on earth can we trust them after every other replacement programme introduced by the Conservatives has been underfunded, under-resourced and inadequate.
“The higher education and research sector is vital to Wales with a 2020 study finding that universities contributed more than £5 billion to the Welsh economy and generated an average of 61,722 jobs per year.
“The sector has already experienced significant turbulence due to Brexit, with the number of EU students studying in the UK halving in the year 2021 and institutions facing troubles in recruiting and retaining EU staff.”
According to the leaked paper, walking away from a deal could be on the cards if the UK triggers Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol in the coming weeks.
A ‘senior government source’ told the Telegraph that the plans were in response to what they saw as an EU bid to block access to the funding in order to increase their negotiating leverage over the UK.
“Blocking the UK from joining Horizon is in no one’s interest – we can’t participate and they lose out our financial contribution,” they said.
“We’re having to look at alternatives in case the EU does block our access, which would be a breach of what we agreed less than a year ago.”
Jane Dodds said that former Welsh Liberal Democrats leader Kirsty Williams, while Education Secretary, had already set up the International Learning Exchange programme after the UK Government took the UK out of Erasmus.
“The last thing our higher education and research sector needs now is yet more uncertainty,” she said.
“We should be looking at repairing relations with the EU and increasing cooperation, not placing further threats.
“I am calling on the Conservative Party to cease this utterly irresponsible behaviour that places people’s jobs and livelihoods as well as the Welsh economy at risk, they must give the Welsh higher education and research sectors the security and stability they need.”