Oxford and Cambridge now receive only £1m from European research programmes between them. Previously, the top UK universities received over £130m a year from European research programmes. Oxford had previously won €523m combined from 2014-2020 of the Horizon 2020 programme but has only been awarded €2m in the new Horizon Europe 2021-2027 programme.
According to the negotiated Brexit deal, the UK should still be part of the €95.5bn Horizon Europe university funding programme. However, the approval of this aspect of the deal was disrupted after the UK failed to implement the Northern Ireland Protocol. The programme is crucial for implementing partnerships between UK and European universities and carries considerable international prestige.
Professor of higher education at Oxford, Simon Marginson, told The Guardian that “For higher education and research, there are no new opportunities and no actual possible upsides from Brexit.” He said Brexit was a “historic error of monumental proportions”, describing the new data on Oxford and Cambridge as “very worrying”.
Despite the government’s assurances that it will cover the lost Horizon Europe funding, many academics are leaving the UK for European and American universities.
Paul Pharoah, a researcher into the genetic epidemiology of ovarian cancer, is an example of such an academic. He worked at Cambridge University for 26 years and was involved in EU-funded projects for the last 15 years but has now taken up a post at Cedar Sinai hospital in Los Angeles.
In making his decision to move, he said it was much harder to come by funding in his field in the UK since Brexit. “The lack of opportunity to apply for EU funding made the outlook even more bleak.”
In April, 150 UK academics who won funding from the European Research Council were given two months to choose whether to take up posts at EU institutions or sacrifice their funding. Whilst the UK government matched the threatened ERC funding, 1 in 8 ERC funded academics still left the UK.
Professor Augusta McMahon, an archaeologist who had also worked at Cambridge for 26 years left for Chicago University. She said that fewer European lecturers were applying for UK jobs.
Since Brexit UK universities have witnessed a large decline in the number of enrolled European students. This decline has been felt most severely at undergraduate level. Whilst 37,530 EU students enrolled for the first year of a primary degree at a UK university in 2020, the figure was just 13,155 in 2021.
Since Brexit, EU students have no longer had access to domestic fees and UK student loans. Fewer EU students on UK university campuses has consequences for the diversity of the student population. The finances of UK universities have also taken a hit, particularly as EU students were previously more likely to pay for a full 3- or 4-year undergraduate degree than other international students.