Brexit: the Erasmus and Horizon programmes Contents

Chapter 4: Future UK policy options

94.The Political Declaration on the future UK-EU relationship—agreed at negotiator level in November 2018—states that the Parties will:

95.As noted in Chapter 2, the UK could seek to participate in the next Erasmus programme and Horizon Europe through full association or more limited involvement as a ‘non-associated’ third country. Witnesses suggested that—either in addition to continued participation in EU programmes or as an alternative if this does not prove possible or desirable—the Government could establish new UK international mobility and research programmes. These options, along with the implications of cross-cutting issues including immigration policy and ongoing uncertainty about the terms of the future UK-EU relationship, are considered below.

Continued participation in EU programmes

Association: Erasmus: 2021–2027

96.As we have seen, witnesses were extremely positive about the impact of Erasmus in the UK to date. It is therefore unsurprising that they overwhelmingly supported full association to the successor to Erasmus+. Several witnesses were also keen to stress that the UK would have the option of seeking full association to the 2021–2027 Erasmus programme, whether it left the EU with a deal or not.114

97.The University of East Anglia told us:

“Erasmus+ is unique in that it offers additional funding to support students with specific, ongoing medical needs or disabilities, enabling them to still travel with appropriate medical support, or to fund regular travel back to the UK for required ongoing treatment/medical check-ups. There are no other similar, universal grants for such students to study abroad.”115

98.The Association of UK Higher Education European Officers (HEURO) said that students from lower income backgrounds would be “excluded from participating in an international sojourn” without the additional funding provided by Erasmus.116 UNA Exchange highlighted the importance of the vocational elements of Erasmus, which they believed had “the most significant impact on young people with fewer opportunities—those furthest from the labour market and most at risk of social exclusion”.117

99.Universities UK pointed to the Commission’s proposal to increase mobility opportunities by doubling the overall budget for the 2021–2027 Erasmus programme and implementing measures to improve accessibility and flexibility for disadvantaged students. They suggested these steps aligned well with UK priorities.118

100.Several universities mentioned the centrality of Erasmus to their degree programmes. The University of Surrey, for example, told us: “We have redesigned two of our Business courses to enable students to spend a year or semester at a European Business School under the Erasmus programme.”119 The University of Oxford highlighted the European focus of their Modern Languages degrees, and said their Law department’s “long-standing endeavours to build and foster links with participating Erasmus countries would be severely hampered” without continued UK involvement in the programme.120

101.Gail Armistead concluded:

“[Erasmus] is a life-changing experience for many of our students. When those students come up to graduation, many of them reflect on the experience they have had, and they have so much potential to offer employers in the future. You look at that and feel that is why we are all fighting to stay in it, because we want to continue to offer those opportunities to students and broaden them out.”121

102.Several witnesses thought that the EU would welcome the UK’s continued participation in Erasmus and, indeed, that this would be of mutual benefit. Newcastle University thought the UK was “an attractive destination” for international students, and the University of Cambridge told us that the UK was the third most popular destination country for Erasmus students.122 The Russell Group noted that both the European Parliament and the EU’s Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, had mentioned Erasmus as a likely area of future UK-EU cooperation.123 Gail Armistead confirmed she was getting “very positive messages” from European partners, who were “overwhelmingly supportive” of the UK’s continued participation in Erasmus.124 Jane Racz said that other National Agencies valued mobility to and from the UK and that she had not seen “any negativity at all” regarding the UK’s continued participation in Erasmus.125

103.The University of Surrey thought that continued participation would depend on whether the UK was “prepared to pay the price”.126 The University of Nottingham noted that—with an increased overall budget—the costs of participating in the next Erasmus programme could be higher than at present,127 though the University of Edinburgh did not think the level of financial contributions required would be “prohibitive”.128

104.A number of witnesses commented on the UK’s ability to influence the programme as an associated country without voting rights.129 The University of Bristol: Research Development International/International Office thought it “highly unlikely” the UK would have any influence over Erasmus after 29 March 2019”.130 John Latham, in contrast, said that non-EU programme countries like Norway and Turkey were “big players” and “valued partners” in the current Erasmus+ programme.131 Jane Racz pointed out that the UK would still be able to attend Erasmus+ programme meetings which, she said, operated “more on a collaborative basis”, and in which voting was “very rare”.132

105.Amatey Doku agreed that the means by which stakeholders such as the NUS influenced the programme in the past were “often quite informal” and “about relationships”, but warned:

“The broader political question is that, if we have a traumatic exit from the European Union, it would permeate the negotiating teams on both sides. It would become much harder to have a say on things such as this if the broader divorce, if you will, is not very pleasant.”133

Mr Doku was also concerned that potential changes to the immigration status of EU nationals in the UK would cause the UK to lose “some of the capital” it currently had in conversations about future association to Erasmus.134

106.The Royal Society of Edinburgh observed that the free movement of Erasmus participants was a “key principle” in bilateral agreements with non-EU programme countries.135 Other witnesses pointed to the experience of Switzerland, which lost full access to EU education projects including Erasmus following its 2014 referendum on free movement, and as a result had to set up its own ‘mirrored arrangements’ in a Swiss-European Mobility Programme (SEMP).136

Association: Horizon Europe

107.MillionPlus believed:

“As a future relationship, the best scenario would be one whereby the UK continues to have full access to research funding and collaborative programmes, so that universities can participate, and lead, in pan-European projects.”137

Prof Thompson agreed, noting that “full associated status” would allow the UK to “continue to access framework programmes for research in the future under the same conditions as Member States”.138

108.London Higher told us that a UK-EU association agreement for Horizon Europe would depend upon how much the UK was willing to pay for access. They highlighted the “method of financial rebalancing” set out in the programme proposal, and called for the UK to agree a “meaningful” level of contributions to ensure the UK research community was not “frozen out of participation in a world-leading research ecosystem”.139 The University of Edinburgh agreed a commitment by the UK to provide matching funding was justified, emphasising that the “value of EU research funding [could not] be measured solely in financial terms”.140

109.The University of East Anglia noted that accepting complete free movement was not “a specific prerequisite” for association to Horizon 2020, but thought the free movement of researchers and research goods—such as scientific equipment—would be necessary for participation in EU framework programmes.141

110.On the level of influence the UK could expect to have over Horizon Europe, Vivienne Stern said the UK had historically “carried a lot of weight … in the big discussions” on EU framework programmes. While Brexit and uncertainty around future association had “diluted” the UK’s impact on the debates on Horizon Europe, she expected the UK would “remain an influential voice at the European level” with regard to research and innovation.142 The University of Oxford noted that association would give the UK “observer status in [Horizon Europe’s] programme committees but no vote”. Nonetheless, they explained that countries associated to Horizon 2020 had found it was scientists rather than politicians who shaped the funding programmes, and said that topics and content in committee meetings (where the work programmes [were] agreed) were “decided by consensus”.143

111.In contrast, Newcastle University believed that the UK’s ability to “indirectly influence” Horizon Europe as an associate country would be “tactically difficult”.144 The Royal Society of Edinburgh described the potential loss of UK influence over the programme as a “significant issue”, and called on the UK and the EU to explore “the merit and feasibility of establishing a joint UK-EU strategic committee that would enable the parties to strategically align their programmes and capital investments in higher education, research and innovation”.145

112.Other witnesses highlighted possible channels of influence outside the programme committees, including Science Europe (an association of European Research Funding and Research Performing Organisations), UKRI’s Brussels office, and the European scientific academies.146

113.The Russell Group argued it was important to “strike the right tone” when considering influence: the UK should make it clear that it accepted the implications of its decision to leave the EU for the “methods of influence” it would have in EU programmes. They thought that “‘influence’ should not be seen as political influence, but rather about ensuring appropriate accountability for UK funds being spent via EU research and innovation framework programmes”.147

114.The Royal Society thought there would be an inevitable “period of uncertainty for UK-based researchers and businesses over the future funding environment”, because the UK would not be able to confirm association to Horizon Europe until negotiations on the programme concluded. They continued:

“The UK government could ameliorate the damage that this may do to UK confidence and send a clear message of its intention to seek association by committing the public money in the upcoming Spending Review to buy into Horizon Europe once it is agreed.”148

115.Imperial College London suggested the Government’s underwrite guarantee could provide the basis for a “shadow programme” to “cover any potential funding gap caused by any delays in association” to Horizon Europe.149

116.As for the likely attitude of the EU towards UK association to Horizon Europe, several witnesses drew our attention to the July 2017 report of the independent High Level Group on maximising the impact of EU Research & Innovation Programmes, chaired by Pascal Lamy.150 This report concluded:

“Whatever Brexit modalities are agreed between the UK and the EU by 2019, full and continued engagement with the UK within the post-2020 EU R&I programme remains an obvious win-win for the UK and the EU. The UK has one of the strongest science bases of all European countries. A positive cooperation model (e.g., based on mutual investment) should be established, so that the UK remains part of the European Research Area.”151

Witnesses also highlighted that the UK was “a major contributor to Horizon 2020 in expertise, budget contribution and scale”,152 and suggested the EU was “at risk of losing one of the top-ranking R&D powerhouses”.153

Non-associated third country participation

Erasmus 2021–2027

117.Witnesses were clear that participation in the 2021–2027 Erasmus programme as a non-associated third country—a ‘partner country’ under Erasmus+ terminology—was a less desirable option than full association.

118.The University of Aberdeen explained that “the funding available would be much lower” and said the UK would be “reliant on partners in programme countries to manage projects and funding on our behalf”.154 The University of Cambridge agreed that partner country status would reduce the role of UK universities in “renewing and developing institutional partnerships”, and “limit opportunities for students to undertake work placements under Erasmus”.155 London Higher believed that full association would put the UK “in a much better position to influence the programme” compared to the “informal lobbying role” it would have as a non-associated third country.156

119.A number of witnesses cited the Swiss-European Mobility Programme (SEMP) as an example of the disadvantages of partner country status versus full association. The University of East Anglia, for example, noted that the Swiss Government must provide funding for both incoming and outgoing students and, consequently, has had to impose caps on the sectors and numbers of participants that can access it.157 The East of England European Partnership identified as drawbacks the refusal of some previous partners to agree replacement bilateral agreements when Switzerland left Erasmus, and the fact that SEMP offers no substitutes for many Erasmus+ actions, such as work placements and cooperation projects.158 Liz Simpson, Study Abroad Officer at the University of Leeds, told us:

“My understanding is that the Swiss model … is costly and feedback from Swiss colleagues suggests they would prefer to be part of the Erasmus programme moving forward.”159

Horizon Europe

120.Dr Thompson observed there were “substantial differences between associated country status and third country status” in EU research framework programmes, with ‘non-associated’ third countries unable to lead projects or receive funding from single beneficiary schemes like the ERC and MSCA. It was “critical” for the UK to secure full association to preserve access to these important features.160

121.The Wellcome Trust was concerned that, as a ‘non-associated’ third country, the UK would lose access to EU joint infrastructure, or that this would only be available on an ad hoc basis and for a fee. They warned: “EU researchers already face long queues to access some infrastructure, it is likely UK researchers would be a lower priority.”161

122.Universities UK thought that universities would want to participate in the parts of Horizon Europe open to third countries even if the UK could not secure full association, as this would still offer a “unique array of collaboration opportunities that [could not] be replicated at a domestic level”. They emphasised funding would be required to support any UK participation, and to replace the ERC and MSCA programmes.162

No participation in EU programmes

Implications for educational mobility

123.Witnesses saw the ending of UK participation in Erasmus as the least desirable outcome. Some universities suggested that people from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with medical needs or disabilities would be disproportionately affected due to losing access to the additional financial support they received through the programme.163 Gail Armistead pointed out that it was Government policy—and a priority for the university sector—to “increase accessibility and ensure greater diversity” in the group of students participating in mobility opportunities. The loss of Erasmus funding would thus be “the exact opposite” of what the Government was trying to achieve internationally.164

124.John Latham believed that VET “mobility opportunities would stop in their tracks” without Erasmus funding, or would be restricted to “those who can afford to go”. Asked about the potential to establish new arrangements with countries outside Europe, Mr Latham explained:

“In the vocational area, you are possibly talking about short-term mobility placements for students who have special needs or difficult circumstances at home. Europe is their destination. It is a short trip… While a mobility experience in Canada or Australia sounds a really great opportunity and I would welcome it on top of Erasmus+, it is possibly too risky to start looking at those opportunities when our real partners are on our doorstep.”165

125.Other witnesses were concerned about a reduction in the number of international students coming to the UK. The Universities of East Anglia, Aberdeen and Leicester suggested that EU students would be more likely to go to other Erasmus programme countries which offered English-based teaching, where they could access Erasmus funding, and where the cost of living was lower than in the UK.166 The East of England European Partnership said this would risk “a set-back to the international dimension of UK campuses”.167

126.The University of Oxford thought Erasmus offered “unparalleled flexibility of opportunity”, without which students and staff would “suffer a serious … diminution of their academic experience”. They were also concerned by the prospect of having to set up individual arrangements with institutions in Europe to replace Erasmus partnership agreements, which they said would entail “significant administrative and financial burdens” and “fail to guarantee the financial support” provided by Erasmus.168 The Russell Group suggested universities were hesitant to take unilateral action to try to mitigate the impact of Brexit without clarity on the UK’s future relationship with Erasmus.169

127.The Royal Society of Edinburgh highlighted that Scottish participants comprised 12% of the total UK figure—and Scotland received 13% of total Erasmus+ funding in the UK—between 2014 and 2018, compared to Scotland’s 8.2% share of the UK population. They pointed to a report by the Scottish Parliament’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee, which recommended the Scottish Government should explore the feasibility of Scotland’s continued participation as a 2021–2027 Erasmus programme country in the event the UK Government was “unwilling or unable” to negotiate this for the whole of the UK.170

128.The University of Chester concluded:

“Ultimately, non-participation in Erasmus will harm the UK economy as our students will not possess the linguistic skills, self-reliance or breadth of knowledge and experience of students who have participated in Erasmus.”171

Implications for research

129.MillionPlus believed there would be barriers to both UK-EU research collaboration and access to research funding if the UK was “locked out of Horizon programmes altogether” as a consequence of Brexit.172

130.Imperial College London said it was vital to retain access to the EU’s “excellence-based funding instruments, such as the ERC”, and believed there was no UK funding instrument that could replicate and therefore substitute for the ERC.173 Prof Thompson, however, said that UKRI would work with national academies to “devise and develop a very prestigious alternative to the ERC and [MSCA]” if the UK lost access to these programmes. He confirmed UKRI was “actively involved now” in exploring this possibility with national academies, but did not want to “downplay the size or scale of the operational challenge” involved. Prof Thompson noted the UK research community had a track record of establishing new funding instruments “at very high speed”, but was clear that full association was “the absolutely desired outcome” and “the future health, prosperity and success of the UK research and science base [was] significantly leveraged on that”.174

Alternative UK programmes

Educational exchanges

131.While continued participation in EU programmes was their clear preference, witnesses agreed that an alternative UK mobility scheme would be essential if the Government chose not to pursue full association with Erasmus, or if this proved unattainable.175 To establish such a programme, Jane Racz thought the Government would first need to decide which countries it wanted to work with, what sectors would be involved, who the target audience was, and what it wanted to achieve through the programme.176

132.Universities UK said:

“[Any new UK mobility programme] should be flexible on: mobility options, mobility type, destination countries, and reflect the different contexts of all UK nations, avoiding heavy levels of administration and reporting. Funding levels should be commensurate with the trajectory of growth in outward student mobility in recent years and reflect the growing funding the UK would have received from the Erasmus+ programme.”

Universities UK also thought the programme should reflect Erasmus’ systems—to facilitate cooperation and exchanges with Europe—and “provide incentives for other countries/stakeholders to collaborate and join”.177

133.While the University of Oxford and Cardiff University emphasised the importance of facilitating continued collaboration with EU Erasmus partners through any UK replacement programme, Herefordshire Council thought the Government should “invest in supporting mobility further afield than Europe” through “travel grants, fellowships and workshops, as well as new bi-and multi-lateral funding arrangements with other national funders”.178 Joan-Anton Carbonell said student mobility opportunities should be also be “promoted to increase the numbers, to reach the level of other countries where mobility is much more established”.179

134.HEURO sought a guarantee that any replacement programme would be “immediately in place” as soon as the UK left Erasmus. They called for financial support to cover reduced tuition fees and contributions to institutions for students going abroad for a full academic year, as under the Erasmus programme.180


135.While acknowledging a new mobility scheme would be necessary in the absence of access to Erasmus, witnesses identified various disadvantages of a replacement UK programme. The University of East Anglia, for example, noted Erasmus+ had “extremely strong branding”, a “globally trusted reputation”, and “high levels of employer recognition”. They warned: “There is no guarantee that important universities across Europe would all recognise a UK alternative mobility scheme.”181

136.Liz Simpson thought there would be a risk that partnerships arranged under any replacement programme would have “more emphasis on reciprocity” in terms of the number of incoming and outgoing students. Erasmus did not focus on this, so “the balance [of student exchanges] may be in our favour with one partner, yet in the partner’s favour with another institution”. There was, she said, “an unwritten rule based on mutual benefit that this is acceptable within [Erasmus]”.182

137.The University of Edinburgh believed that the benefits of Erasmus+ “would be difficult to replicate and deliver through a UK-led domestic initiative”.183 The Russell Group agreed, telling us it was “difficult to imagine” how the UK could replicate the benefits of Erasmus, and noting the programme had “a common framework with centralised rules and funding agreements”, which reduced the administrative burden of negotiating partnership agreements with overseas partners.184 Gail Armistead also agreed, noting it was “a far more time-consuming process and resource-heavy endeavour” to establish partnerships with institutions in non-Erasmus countries.185

138.Jane Racz qualified this by pointing out that universities were well-resourced, and many had existing bilateral relationships with partner institutions abroad. On the other hand, smaller projects—including those working with more disadvantaged groups—were often managed by “somebody trying to run a project in an evening or in their spare time between lessons”, who she thought would struggle to find exchange partners without the support of Erasmus.186

139.London Higher questioned the capacity of the UK to establish an alternative mobility scheme as quickly as Switzerland had done in 2014:

“Opportunities for exchange here were facilitated by a range of bilateral agreements set up quickly, using money already ring-fenced, benefiting from a large degree of political consensus and informed by decades of Swiss experience and precedent negotiating these bilateral mobility agreements with EU countries. The UK does not have this precedent, so this mirrored system would be slower to set up and most likely less effective in maintaining exchange numbers”.187

General need for additional investment in educational mobility

140.Several witnesses argued that the UK should invest more funding in mobility, or establish new mobility schemes, regardless of whether it continued to participate in Erasmus after Brexit. The University of Edinburgh thought the Government should “deliver an ambitious funded national strategy to increase and support learning abroad”, highlighting the example of Germany’s Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) which operated alongside Erasmus. They explained that the German government provided funding for over 100,000 students to go abroad each year as well as additional funding for disadvantaged students.188

141.Universities UK drew our attention to its Outward Student Mobility Working Group, established to “explore options for government investment in a large-scale mobility scheme supported by appropriate infrastructure and administration”. This group recommended that the Government should establish such a scheme to facilitate further growth in student mobility. Universities UK suggested that this could complement Erasmus by funding mobility opportunities outside Europe, or provide the basis of a replacement programme if the UK was excluded from Erasmus+ and its successor programme.189

142.Cardiff University called for “dedicated support” such as bursaries and scholarships to help UK institutions attract EU students. They warned there could be a “market shock” from a sharp decline in the number of EU students coming to the UK if they lost access to student loans and had to pay the much higher ‘international student’ rate of tuition fees after Brexit.190


143.The Royal Academy of Engineering told us:

“If the UK was unable to secure continued access to EU research and innovation programmes, it would be essential for the UK government to create suitable replacement research and innovation programmes using national funds.”191

144.Dr Thompson believed that the UK would need to “carry over” the key features of EU funding for any domestic programme to be “really effective”. For example, “an ERC-like scheme”, where applications would “not have to be a UK national or already based in the UK to apply for it”.192

145.Vivienne Stern noted that European research funding was “spread slightly more widely” across different subjects and institutions, compared to UK research funding.193 MillionPlus agreed and said the UK should “move away from ever greater [funding] concentration” in any national replacement scheme.194

146.Herefordshire Council called on the Government to “forge new global research and skills networks and co-fund more ambitious programmes to support collaboration with international partners”.195 The University of Edinburgh, in contrast, believed it would be a “mistake to regard new international research collaborations” as a substitute for the EU framework programmes, “in terms of partnering, quality of output and ease of management”.196


147.The Wellcome Trust highlighted the “major cost and logistical challenges” involved in setting up UK bilateral schemes as an alternative to EU collaborative research programmes.197

148.The University of Oxford told us that the EU programmes provided a “tried and tested mechanism for international collaboration”. They believed the impact of EU programmes would be “difficult to replicate at the national level” and that isolating the UK’s research efforts would be “counter-productive in terms of economic growth and technological progress”.198

149.Cardiff University underlined how the “stability” provided by the EU’s seven-year research programmes had facilitated long-term planning; this feature was “not replicated by any other international funding programme or bilateral funding agreements”.199 The Russell Group agreed there were non-financial benefits to the EU programmes which could not be emulated, namely, the facilitation of “frictionless cross-border, multi-lateral partnerships … access to infrastructures and equipment… [and] mobility of the most talented researchers across Europe”.200

150.Professor Patrick Roche, an astronomer at the University of Oxford, doubted a UK scheme would be able to achieve “the breadth of applicants or the reputation” of the ERC, and noted ERC grants were “the most sought-after research funding opportunities for bright and ambitious scientists”. He added:

“Strong and productive research collaborations take time to establish and nurture. They are built on mutual interest, complementary expertise and trust which cannot be forced or dictated … Many collaborations run for decades, building up over time and gaining in ambition and scope, and they cannot just be stopped and reconfigured with new groups in response to a possible UK departure from our existing European networks. If this happens, there will be deep and lasting damage which could take years to repair.”201

Cross-cutting issues

151.Regardless of whether the UK leaves the EU with or without a deal—and whether or not the UK secures association to the next Erasmus and Horizon programmes—witnesses were concerned about potential changes to immigration policy in relation to students and researchers, and the negative impact of ongoing uncertainty around Brexit.

Immigration policy

152.Dr Thompson told us:

“Free movement has served research incredibly well because we know that research thrives on the movement of people and their ideas across borders.”202

153.London Higher believed it would be “crucial” to “support the frictionless exchange of researchers and their innovative ideas” if the UK wanted to increase research collaboration outside the EU. The University of Cambridge called for an immigration system that was “sufficiently flexible to accommodate short term visits by researchers as well as researchers coming to work and live in the UK”.203

154.Amatey Doku believed that the Government’s policy of ending free movement would result in “more stringent immigration controls” after Brexit. Mr Doku acknowledged it was unclear what this might mean for students, but was “deeply uncomfortable” with any changes purporting to ensure students did not use the Erasmus programme to “come in, drop out, and stay in the country”.204

155.Herefordshire Council thought the UK’s post-Brexit immigration policy should encourage “all suitably qualified international students to study in the UK” and enhance “post-study work opportunities”.205 The NUS believed students should be granted “special immigration status, without the need to pay for a visa or meet additional eligibility requirements”.206 Cardiff University suggested:

“Lessons could be drawn from countries such as Canada and Australia which have created strategies and underpinning immigration policies to encourage international students to study at their universities.”207

156.Vivienne Stern was concerned about the impact applying the current Tier 4 (general student) visa to EU students would have on the UK’s “attractiveness as a study destination”. While the success rate for acquiring a Tier 4 visa was high, the application process was difficult and “managed to create an impression that we do not really want international students”.208 Dr Thompson thought the UK visa system had a similar effect on researchers, as it was “hugely costly compared to other countries” (see Box 5). She suggested the UK could use Brexit as an opportunity to “go back to the drawing board and think about how we welcome talent” and “reduce the bureaucracy, the burden and the cost” of the immigration system.209

157.The implications of applying the UK’s ‘Points Based System’ for work-related visas to EU nationals after Brexit were considered in detail in the European Union Committee’s 2017 report on Brexit: UK-EU movement of people.210

Box 5: Written evidence from the Wellcome Trust comparing UK and French visa costs for researchers

“[In the UK a] five-year visa for a researcher with a partner and three children currently costs over £11,000, and this is expected to increase once the NHS surcharge doubles. In comparison, fees for the same researcher and family obtaining a four-year French Talent Passport costs approximately £1,040 (€1,168).*

“This data is based on a report by the Together Science Can campaign, with data compiled by the law firm Fragomen. Wellcome understands that there are no healthcare surcharges or visa fees comparable to the NHS Surcharge and therefore this is a direct comparison. Employees who work in France are entitled to French state healthcare insurance, which is automatically deducted from their salaries as a social contribution—and if you are below a certain salary threshold, you do not pay contributions to access healthcare.

“*The NHS surcharge is currently £200 per person per year, but this is expected to double to £400 … The £11,000 calculation assumes the researcher is exempt from the immigration skills charge (PhD-level occupations are exempt), otherwise it could cost up to £16,000.”

Source: Supplementary written evidence from the Wellcome Trust (ESE0048)


158.Whether the UK leaves the EU with or without a deal, witnesses stressed that time was running out to confirm and establish future UK arrangements for educational mobility and research.

159.Jane Racz reported that the National Agency had seen an increase in questions about Brexit to their help desk and at events. She could not say whether there had been any “cooling of the application numbers” in the latest funding round, but confirmed that interest in Erasmus+ remained at a “consistently strong level”.211 Madeleine Rose noted there would be students coming into universities now wanting to do a placement in their third year. Consequently, she expected universities to “lead the charge in wanting to know fairly soon what the direction will be”.212

160.Gail Armistead noted that in late 2018 the higher education sector had already “missed one of our aspirational milestones” for knowing the form of future mobility arrangements. She emphasised: “We are dealing here with real people … students currently abroad, students preparing to go abroad, and projects we want to apply for funding for.”213

161.John Latham underlined the importance of long lead-in times to “introduce the idea” of mobility to the young people he worked with, and “sell it to them”. Mr Lathan noted it was “crucial to get everything right” when sending young people abroad, and it was normal “to take over a year to plan an exchange”:

“Anything less than [a year] and you will be putting something at risk and the quality assurance aspect of the projects will be affected. It is not quality assurance in the everyday sense; it is the quality of people’s lives. Young people have to be nurtured and really looked after when they are sent on exchanges or go on project exchanges abroad.”214

162.Cardiff University thought that “matters would need to be resolved … by mid-2019 at the latest” to avoid a “cliff-edge or gap” between Erasmus+ and its successor programme.215 Amatey Doku, however, saw disruption to mobility opportunities as unavoidable, even if the UK secured full association to the next Erasmus programme.216

163.The East of England European Partnership highlighted that uncertainty also had a “real impact” on research, particularly on large collaborative projects, which they said took a long time to plan and deliver.217 Vivienne Stern believed it was possible that the UK would still be negotiating association to Horizon Europe when the programme began, pointing out this had happened to Switzerland “on a couple of occasions”.218

The Government’s position

164.The Minister, Chris Skidmore MP, confirmed: “We are still keen to be able to pursue associated membership of future [EU] programmes that begin in 2021.”219

165.Sarah Redwood, of DfE, also said that “we have made no secret of the fact that we want the option to explore association in the future”. If the EU was willing, Ms Redwood thought that negotiations on association to Horizon Europe could be concluded in a year, based on the previous experiences of countries like Switzerland, Israel and Canada.220

166.The Minister could not confirm the potential costs of future UK association to Horizon Europe and Erasmus while the 2021–2027 MFF was under negotiation, but noted both programmes were expected to have significantly larger budgets than Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+. Sarah Redwood explained that the financial contributions from associated countries to Horizon 2020 were calculated based on a proportion of GDP, and therefore expected the UK would pay “a larger contribution under Horizon Europe as part of a larger programme”. Shahid Omer anticipated the same would be true for the 2021–2027 Erasmus programme, which was expected to “double in size”.221

167.Nonetheless, the Minister thought that the value of participation in both programmes should not be measured just in terms of financial contributions. On Erasmus, he said:

“You simply cannot equate monetary spend with putting together a programme that will replicate Erasmus and 30 years’ worth of ties not only across member states but across institutions. It is obviously important to reflect on that value. There is return on investment. There is also the alternative cost of replicating a similar scheme.”222

168.The Minister argued it was right and responsible for the Government to explore a possible domestic alternative to Erasmus, if continued participation and future association could not be achieved, but recognised that the UK would “never be able properly to supplement the historic ties and relationships that have been built up over 30 years”.223 Alongside “continued close cooperation” with European partners, the Minister noted the Government’s ambition, as part of its Global Britain agenda, to “work more closely and strengthen links” with other partners, building on existing bilateral exchange and mobility initiatives the UK has with countries outside the EU.224

169.With regard to Horizon 2020, the Minister emphasised the benefits of research to the UK economy, arguing that placing research and development “at the heart of [the Government’s] vision” would be “vital for [the UK’s] success in the 2020s”.225 He reiterated that the UK was a world leader in research, with existing collaborative partnerships around the world, and confirmed the Government would publish a new International Research and Innovation Strategy “as soon as possible”. The Government had also made a “bold commitment” to spend 2.4% of GDP on R&D by 2027, and established a new £110 million fund to support international research collaboration.226

170.On immigration, the Minister told us the recent Immigration White Paper (see Box 6) had “set out very clearly” that the UK would “focus on ensuring … the easiest possible route” for international students to access UK universities, and that there would be “no cap on international student numbers”. He added:

“It is not just students. I am determined to ensure that we do not lose momentum in developing our research and development commitment to 2.4%. It is not just about the money … If you do not have the research capability, if research staff, research teams and their families are not able to come here, that is something that is allied with student numbers.”227

171.The Minister pointed to the Government’s ‘EU Settlement Scheme’, intended for EU nationals already lawfully resident in the UK. This would enable EU nationals already “studying or working here by the end of March 2019 to remain in the UK”, which he hoped would “provide certainty”.228 He further noted that “conditions for entry and stay for purposes such as research, study, training and youth exchanges” would be considered during negotiations on the future UK-EU relationship, as set out in the Political Declaration.229

Box 6: The Immigration White Paper

In December 2018 the Government published a White Paper on The UK’s future skills-based immigration system. With regard to students, scientists and researchers, the White Paper sets out plans to:

  • introduce a new UK Research and Innovation-led scheme to support the temporary movement of scientists and researchers under the Government’s Authorised Exchange Scheme, for those looking to come to the UK for two years;
  • double the number of Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visas, including for top global scientists, to 2,000 a year;
  • change the UK Immigration Rules to waive the Resident Labour Market Test for employers recruiting supernumerary researchers supported by Awards and Fellowships, and members of established research teams who are sponsored by UK Higher Education Institutions and the Research Councils under the main skilled work route;
  • provide an exemption from the usual rules for absences from the UK for scientists and researchers called to assist with humanitarian and environmental crises;
  • offer six months’ post-study leave to stay in the UK to find work after graduating to all master’s students, and bachelor’s students studying at an institution with degree-awarding powers;
  • enable faster switching between the existing Tier 4 student route and highly skilled Tier 2 visas to support those at the early stages of their careers; and,
  • ensure EU citizens can study in the UK without needing to go through the full student visa process, if the UK continues to participate in Erasmus or a similar programme.

Source: Home Office, The UK’s future skills-based immigration system (December 2018): [accessed 11 January 2019]


172.The UK is a respected and important partner in both the Erasmus and Horizon programmes. It is a popular destination for mobility placements and a world leader in research with an exceptionally strong science base. The UK receives substantial amounts of funding from EU programmes, and other less tangible benefits built on decades of international cooperation with European partners. We strongly believe—and it was the unanimous view of our witnesses—that it is in the UK and the EU’s mutual interest to preserve current close levels of cooperation on research and innovation and educational mobility. We are encouraged by positive indications in the Political Declaration on the future UK-EU relationship that this will be possible.

Educational exchanges

173.The Erasmus programme has played a significant role in facilitating the international mobility of people studying and working in the fields of education, training, youth, and sport in the UK. The programme offers unparalleled financial support and flexibility to enable people from lower income backgrounds, and those with medical needs or disabilities, to take part in educational exchanges. The Government should seek to ensure the UK remains part of this important initiative by seeking full association to the 2021–2027 Erasmus programme.

174.The cost of participating in the 2021–2027 Erasmus programme is likely to be higher than for Erasmus+, as it will have double the overall budget. Nevertheless, we consider this a worthwhile investment to maintain access to Erasmus and the partnerships the UK has built within Europe through the programme over the past 30 years. It is clear, as the Minister himself noted, that the value of Erasmus cannot be measured simply in terms of financial contributions and receipts.

175.As an associated third country the UK would be able to attend Erasmus programme committees but would lose its voting rights, reducing the UK’s strategic influence over the programme. We are reassured, however, that these meetings operate mainly on a collaborative basis and non-EU programme countries are regarded as “valued partners”.

176.As a non-associated third country, the UK would not even have a seat at the table in Erasmus programme committees, and UK participants would have access to less funding and fewer exchange opportunities. We do not consider this to be an attractive option.

177.If association to Erasmus cannot be negotiated, it will be essential to establish an alternative UK mobility scheme. This programme must be adequately resourced to support continued growth in the number of people undertaking educational exchanges, particularly in the vocational education and training sector. It should also provide additional support for people from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with disabilities or additional needs, and flexibility in the placements on offer, to ensure opportunities to study, work, teach, or train abroad remain accessible to all. Even with comparative financial investment, however, it will be impossible to replicate aspects of Erasmus which are key to facilitating international exchanges, namely, the programme’s strong brand, trusted reputation, common rulebook and framework for partnership agreements, and its established network of potential partners.

178.Launching a new UK mobility scheme—or increasing investment in existing schemes—to extend mobility opportunities beyond Europe would be welcome in addition to continued participation in Erasmus. Nonetheless, this must not be prioritised at the expense of exchanges “on our doorstep”, which are particularly attractive to vocational students, people with special needs, and those with family commitments.


179.We note the Government’s commitment to increase spending on research and development to 2.4% of GDP by 2027, and look forward to an ambitious new International Research and Innovation Strategy which affirms the centrality of research and innovation to technological progress and the future economic prosperity of the UK.

180.A key part of this strategy should be to prioritise continued access to EU research framework programmes by securing association to Horizon Europe. The Government should ensure UK universities retain full access to EU funding opportunities and can participate in, and lead, collaborative research projects.

181.We note that the UK’s access to Horizon Europe will be commensurate with the financial contribution it is willing to make to the programme. Given the anticipated increase in the budget for Horizon Europe, this is likely to be larger than the UK’s contribution to Horizon 2020. The financial rebalancing mechanism set out in the draft Horizon Europe Regulation would also prevent the UK from being a net beneficiary of EU research funding, as is currently the case. Nonetheless, an increased programme budget means that Horizon Europe will be able to support more grants and collaborative research projects than its predecessor. We urge the Government to agree an appropriate level of financial contributions to ensure the UK can access these opportunities.

182.As an associated third country, the UK would have observer status in Horizon Europe programme committees but no vote and so would not have the same influence over the strategic direction of the programme as an EU Member State. Even so, given the strength of the UK’s science base and the significant role played by scientists in shaping research programmes, witnesses were confident that the UK can still remain an influential player in European research and innovation. We note that it will be important for the UK to “strike the right tone” in this regard, by seeking to ensure appropriate accountability for UK funds spent via Horizon Europe rather than by exercising overt political influence.

183.If the UK participated in Horizon Europe on a ‘non-associated’ third country basis, it would lose access to key funding opportunities—notably European Research Council grants and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions—and would be left without any credible means of influencing the future development and funding priorities of the programme. While limited participation in Horizon Europe would still provide the UK with unique opportunities for collaboration which could not be replicated at the national level, it is clear that full association is the most desirable outcome for UK research and innovation.

184.Additional UK research programmes will be needed to replace EU funding opportunities, if the Government is not willing or able to secure association to Horizon Europe. These programmes should maintain the breadth of funding across different subject areas and institutions provided by EU research programmes, and support advanced scientific research and international collaboration. The Government should work with the research community to determine what key features of EU funding should be retained in UK replacement programmes, such as the excellence-based funding criteria of the European Research Council.

185.We commend UKRI’s willingness to work to develop prestigious domestic alternatives to EU schemes, if the UK loses access to them after Brexit. However, we note that it would take many years to emulate the tried and tested mechanism for international research collaboration provided by the EU framework programmes, the established research partnerships they support, and the EU’s joint infrastructure capabilities.

Cross-cutting issues

186.The ongoing lack of clarity over the future availability of EU funds for mobility and research is causing considerable concern among students and researchers in the UK. Although association cannot be secured until negotiations on the draft 2021–2027 Horizon and Erasmus Regulations are complete, the Government should confirm its intentions regarding future UK participation in these programmes as soon as possible to maximise certainty and stability for potential participants, and enable them to plan for any changes.

187.Whether the UK continues to participate in EU programmes or not, it will be important to ensure the UK’s immigration policy facilitates the frictionless exchange of students and researchers across borders. We welcome the Government’s confirmation in its recent Immigration White Paper that the UK will continue to welcome talented international scientists and researchers. The Government should work closely with the research community to ensure the UK visa system accommodates this ambition. Given the significant positive benefits international students bring to the UK, we also support the Government’s decision not to impose a cap on international student numbers.

113 Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom (November 2018) p 4: [accessed 10 January 2019]

114 See for example written evidence from the University of Nottingham (ESE0008), the National Union of Students (ESE0041), Q 10 (Prof Andrew Thompson).

115 Written evidence from the University of East Anglia (ESE0007)

116 Written evidence from HEURO (ESE0010)

117 Written evidence from UNA Exchange (ESE0027)

118 Written evidence from Universities UK (ESE0032)

119 Written evidence from the University of Surrey (ESE0016)

120 Written evidence from the University of Oxford (ESE0017)

121 Q 18 (Gail Armistead)

122 Written evidence from Newcastle University (ESE0021) and the University of Cambridge (ESE0044)

123 Written evidence from the Russell Group (ESE0047). See also European Parliament resolution of 5 April 2017 on negotiations with the United Kingdom following its notification that it intends to withdraw from the European Union (2017/2593(RSP)), OJ C 298 (23 August 2018), European Commission, Statement by Michel Barnier at the plenary session of the European Parliament on the Article 50 negotiations with the United Kingdom, 13 March 2018: [accessed 3 January 2019] and European Commission, Speech by Michel Barnier at the All-Island Civic Dialogue, 30 April 2018: [accessed 3 January 2019]

124 QQ 13–14 (Gail Armistead)

125 Q 28 (Jane Racz)

126 Written evidence from the University of Surrey (ESE0016)

127 Written evidence from the University of Nottingham (ESE0008)

128 University of Edinburgh (ESE0012)

129 See for example written evidence from the University of Oxford (ESE0017) and Cardiff University (ESE0011), QQ 15–16 (Gail Armistead), Q 16 (John Latham).

130 Written evidence from the University of Bristol: Research Development International/International Office (ESE0028)

131 Q 16 (John Latham)

132 Q 31 (Jane Racz)

133 Q 16 (Amatey Doku)

134 Q 14 (Amatey Doku)

135 Written evidence from The Royal Society of Edinburgh (ESE0045)

136 See for example written evidence from University and College Union (ESE0029), Imperial College London (ESE0038), London Higher (ESE0020) and Herefordshire Council (ESE0006).

137 Written evidence from MillionPlus (ESE0003)

138 Q 19 (Prof Thompson)

139 Written evidence from London Higher (ESE0020)

140 Written evidence from the University of Edinburgh (ESE0012)

141 Written evidence from the University of East Anglia (ESE0007)

142 Q 3 (Vivienne Stern)

143 Written evidence from the University of Oxford (ESE0017)

144 Written evidence from Newcastle University (ESE0021)

145 Written evidence from The Royal Society of Edinburgh (ESE0045)

146 Q 21 (Prof Thompson) and written evidence from the Wellcome Trust (ESE0025)

147 Written evidence from the Russell Group (ESE0047)

148 Written evidence from The Royal Society (ESE0046). The Chancellor announced in March 2018 that the Government would undertake a full review of departmental funding in 2019. ‘Spring Statement: Hammond confirms 2019 Spending Review and allocates Brexit cash’, Civil Service World (13 March 2018): [accessed 10 January 2019]

149 Written evidence from Imperial College London (ESE0038)

150 Written evidence from The Royal Society (ESE0046), the Academy of Social Sciences and Campaign for Social Science (ESE0013), and the East of England European Partnership (ESE0030)

151 European Commission, LAB-FAB-APP Investing in the European future we want (July 2017) p 20: [accessed 10 January 2019]

152 Written evidence from the Campaign for Science & Engineering (ESE0039)

153 Written evidence from Herefordshire Council (ESE0006)

154 Written evidence from the University of Aberdeen (ESE0033)

155 Written evidence from the University of Cambridge (ESE0044)

156 Written evidence from London Higher (ESE0020)

157 Written evidence from the University of East Anglia (ESE0007)

158 Written evidence from the East of England European Partnership (ESE0030)

159 Written evidence from Liz Simpson (ESE0014)

160 Q 2 (Dr Thompson)

161 Written evidence from the Wellcome Trust (ESE0025)

162 Written evidence from Universities UK (ESE0032)

163 See for example written evidence from the University of East Anglia (ESE0007), the University of East Anglia (ESE0007), HEURO (ESE0010), and the University of Oxford (ESE0017).

164 Q 17 (Gail Armistead)

165 Q 17 (John Latham)

166 Written evidence from the University of East Anglia (ESE0007), the University of Aberdeen (ESE0033), and the University of Leicester (ESE0005)

167 Written evidence from the East of England European Partnership (ESE0030)

168 Written evidence from the University of Oxford (ESE0017)

169 Written evidence from the Russell Group (ESE0047)

170 Written evidence from The Royal Society of Edinburgh (ESE0045). See also Scottish Parliament Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee, Erasmus+ (1st Report, 2018 (Session 5), SP Paper 290): [accessed 6 January 2019].

171 Written evidence from the University of Chester (ESE0004)

172 Written evidence from MillionPlus (ESE0003)

173 Written evidence from Imperial College London (ESE0038)

174 QQ 22–24 (Prof Thompson)

175 See for example written evidence from MillionPlus (ESE0003), the University of Leicester (ESE0005), HEURO (ESE0010), the Russell Group (ESE0047) and Cardiff University (ESE0011).

176 Q 33 (Jane Racz)

177 Written evidence from Universities UK (ESE0032)

178 Written evidence from the University of Oxford (ESE0017), Cardiff University (ESE0011), and Herefordshire Council (ESE0006)

179 Written evidence from Mr Joan-Anton Carbonell (ESE0009)

180 Written evidence from HEURO (ESE0010)

181 Written evidence from the University of East Anglia (ESE0007)

182 Written evidence from Liz Simpson (ESE0014)

183 Written evidence from the University of Edinburgh (ESE0012)

184 Written evidence from the Russell Group (ESE0047)

185 16 (Gail Armistead)

186 Q 31 (Jane Racz)

187 Written evidence from London Higher (ESE0020)

188 Written evidence from the University of Edinburgh (ESE0012)

189 Written evidence from Universities UK (ESE0032)

190 Written evidence from Cardiff University (ESE0011)

191 Written evidence from the Royal Academy of Engineering (ESE0018)

192 7 (Dr Thompson)

193 Q 7 (Vivienne Stern)

194 Written evidence from MillionPlus (ESE0003)

195 Written evidence from Herefordshire Council (ESE0006)

196 Written evidence from the University of Edinburgh (ESE0012)

197 Written evidence from the Wellcome Trust (ESE0025)

198 Written evidence from the University of Oxford (ESE0017)

199 Written evidence from Cardiff University (ESE0011)

200 Written evidence from the Russell Group (ESE0047)

201 Written evidence from Professor Patrick Roche (ESE0019)

202 Q 6 (Dr Thompson)

203 Written evidence from the University of Cambridge (ESE0044)

204 Q 14 (Amatey Doku)

205 Written evidence from Herefordshire Council (ESE0006)

206 Written evidence from the National Union of Students (ESE0041)

207 Written evidence from Cardiff University (ESE0011)

208 Q 8 (Vivienne Stern)

209 Q 8 (Dr Thompson)

210 European Union Committee, Brexit: UK-EU movement of people (14th Report, Session 2016–17, HL Paper 121) pp 38–51

211 Q 28 (Jane Racz)

212 Q 29 (Madeleine Rose)

213 Q 17 (Gail Armistead)

214 QQ 15–17 (John Latham)

215 Written evidence from Cardiff University (ESE0011)

216 Q 17 (Amatey Doku)

217 Written evidence from the East of England European Partnership (ESE0030)

218 Q 9 (Vivienne Stern)

219 Q 38 (Chris Skidmore MP)

220 Q 41 (Sarah Redwood). Negotiations on association to Horizon 2020 for countries, such as Switzerland and Israel, that had participated in the previous EU Framework Programme for research lasted between six months to just over a year. For Ukraine, the talks to secure association to Horizon 2020 lasted approximately two years. Supplementary written evidence from Chris Skidmore MP (ESE0050)

221 Q 42 (Chris Skidmore MP)

222 Q 42 (Chris Skidmore MP)

223 43 (Chris Skidmore MP)

224 Supplementary written evidence from Chris Skidmore MP (ESE0050). This submission outlines a number of educational cooperation and exchange schemes the UK currently has in place with non-EU countries, for example: the UK-India Research Initiative, Generation UK-China, Study China, the US-UK Fulbright Commission, International Citizen Service, and funding for overseas placements for Language Assistants.

225 Q 42 (Chris Skidmore MP)

226 Q 44 (Chris Skidmore MP)

227 Q 39 (Chris Skidmore MP)

228 Ibid.

229 Supplementary written evidence from Chris Skidmore MP (ESE0050)

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