“Brinkmanship” by the Westminster Government regarding the future of the UK’s role in EU-led research programmes could have a devastating effect on the higher education and research sector in Wales and leave funding on a cliff edge according to the Welsh Liberal Democrats.
The claim by the Welsh Liberal Democrats comes as leaked Government papers emerged over the weekend outlining that the UK would be willing to walk away from the EU’s Horizon Europe, Copernicus and Euratom research funding programmes.
Horizon Europe is the EU’s flagship funding programme for research and innovation with a budget of over €95 billion. The funding aims to keep Europe at the cutting edge of technological innovation, helping boost competitiveness and growth while also aiming to tackle climate change and achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Wales had previously secured €139 million of Horizon 2020 funding since the start of the programme, involving 375 participants and over 4,000 international collaborations. 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.
The Telegraph has reported that despite the UK Government continuing to fund Horizon to the value of £2.1 billion annually, the EU has not yet allowed UK scientists entry to the programme. This is despite other non-EU countries including Norway receiving formal association status.
This means that British institutions are missing out on research and funding opportunities – a move that leaked Government papers suggest is a deliberate bid by Brussels to create leverage in the Northern Ireland talks.
The Telegraph reports a senior UK Government source as saying: “Blocking the UK from joining Horizon is in no one’s interest – we can’t participate and they lose out our financial contribution. 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.”
The Welsh Liberal Democrats, who campaigned for the UK to rejoin the EU in the last general election, described this as “brinkmanship” and representing and unacceptable risk to Wales’ higher education and research sector, as well as to the long-term stability of the Welsh economy as a whole.
Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader, Jane Dodds MS said: “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.
“It also fell to Welsh Liberal Democrat Education Minister Kirsty Williams to clean up the Conservative’s mess and introduce the International Learning Exchange programme after they took the UK out of Erasmus, despite promising they would not do so. The last thing our higher education and research sector needs now is yet more uncertainty.
“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.
“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.”
Brexit minister, Lord Frost has allegedly been working with Business Secrertary Kwasi Kwarteng, to create a British alternative to the Horizon Europe called ‘Discovery Fund’.
(Lead image: Chokniti Khongchum / Pexels.com)
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