Vice-Chancellor news

Brexit

Read a message from the Vice-Chancellor, sent to staff today (13 January 2021).

Dear colleague

In my first email of this calendar year I was intending to talk about Brexit as well as coronavirus, but that intention was overtaken by events, as I am sure you will understand. Naturally there will be further regular communications on the covid crisis and how it affects us, but I did want to pick up on this other important subject before too much more time elapses.

You will be aware that on Christmas Eve an agreement governing the relationship between the UK and the EU was finally concluded. The details have been widely publicised of course, and anybody who wishes to peruse the full 1,246 pages may do so here. The salient point, however, is that the outcome for the UK university sector is excellent, and beyond what many of us had dared to hope. Our participation in Horizon Europe, which had at various points appeared all but a lost cause, will continue. Indeed, to all intents and purposes university researchers and industry should notice very little difference compared with our participation as a member state.

As an associated country, we will be able to continue to apply to the European Research Council and the Maria Skłodowska-Curie actions which allow researcher mobility. We can continue to lead and co-ordinate bids, and UK researchers can be evaluators. Importantly, we can participate in the Joint Research Committee, programme committees and other fora, thus enabling us to influence the direction of travel as the programme proceeds. While we will not have the voting rights of a member state, this is unlikely to be a major disadvantage since strategic decisions in these committees rarely go to a vote. The UK voice in terms of research and science is seen as a strong one and I am sure that our continued participation (especially through informal discussions behind the scenes) will be welcomed by the strongest science communities in the EU.

Less prominently, but of equal importance, as an associated country our participation in so called ‘research infrastructures’ can continue, which are essentially legally-established research consortia such as Instruct-ERIC (a single point of access for technology and expertise in structural biology in Europe) and the European Social Survey, both of which we host. We participate in twelve further such consortia. Disentangling all this would have been nightmarishly complex and counterproductive, so in these terms too the agreement is very good news for research universities throughout Europe and beyond.

The financial terms are complex but in essence we will make a contribution in proportion to our GDP, a process which mirrors the overall contribution that we made as a member state to the EU budget as a whole, but with the difference that once our participation levels are known, there are adjustment measures to ensure that our contribution remains a fair one. Crucially, the adjustment can be in either direction.

The key message from all of this is that Cardiff researchers should continue to work on applications to Horizon; while there will be a short gap before the new programme is finally ratified by the EU (this is expected by the end of February at the latest), and the final details of our participation negotiated on the basis of that ratification, we can expect to be able to take part in calls and make applications in much the same way as we have with previous framework programmes.

In terms of students, the UK will no longer participate in Erasmus+, the government having announced that our own outward mobility scheme under the name Turing will be established. At the time of writing the details have not yet been published, but we know that the scheme will be funded to the tune of more than £100m p.a., with the aim of enabling around 35,000 students annually (from universities, colleges and schools) to go on international placements and exchanges from next September. We will begin work on engaging with this new scheme as soon as possible (bids will be invited in the coming weeks) and will want to take full advantage of the opportunities it is likely to offer. The new scheme very much takes account of the wishes of UK universities to be able to direct resources more easily towards students from less advantaged backgrounds, to send students on programmes that do not necessarily require exchanges, and to ensure that where exchanges do take place, they are well balanced on either side (under Erasmus, we consistently had about twice as many students coming from the rest of the EU as UK students bound for European destinations). There is sure to be greater flexibility in the types of mobilities that are allowed. In addition, the new scheme will greatly expand the range of potential destinations; while the European Union will doubtless remain a popular option for our students, the Turing scheme will encompass the opportunities to study or go on placements around the world. We will want to ensure that our aspirations in terms of sustainable travel as well as internationalisation at home integrate with this new opportunity, and I would expect the greater flexibility to make this easier. Having chaired the UUK group that advised the government on the alternatives to Erasmus should the barriers to participation prove too great (as they were for Switzerland back in 2014), it is clear to me that we were listened to attentively and account was taken of the views of the sector. The same holds true for our continued participation in Horizon Europe, which is why I take a positive view of the outcome.

Amid the gloom we face it is good to be able to convey some good news; and I urge all those involved in European research and in outward student mobility to take advantage of the opportunities on offer.

With best wishes

Colin Riordan
Vice Chancellor