Brexit: the Erasmus and Horizon programmes Contents

Summary of conclusions and recommendations

The Erasmus and Horizon programmes

1.Erasmus+ is the EU programme for education, training, youth and sport. In the UK, Erasmus+ funding has supported more than 4,700 projects and 128,000 participants since the programme began. While many people think of Erasmus+ as a university student exchange scheme, the programme also extends opportunities to study, work, teach or train abroad to other groups, including vocational students, education staff and youth workers. It also supports youth exchanges, international partnership projects, and youth policy development. Witnesses were extremely positive about the impact of Erasmus+, particularly in terms of improving employment prospects, contributing to economic growth, and increasing opportunities for people from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with special needs. (Paragraph 46)

2.Horizon 2020 is the EU’s framework programme for research and innovation. The UK has been both a significant contributor to and beneficiary from Horizon 2020, with the highest share of participants in signed grant agreements and the second highest share of total programme funding distributed. Witnesses agreed that the programme helps to raise the standard of research and supports excellent science in the UK, including by facilitating international research collaboration, providing access to large-scale research facilities, and attracting the best staff to work on research projects. (Paragraph 47)

Brexit implications

3.The Withdrawal Agreement would ensure that UK participation in Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020 could continue largely unchanged but only until the end of the current Multiannual Financial Framework period, at the end of 2020. We note that uncertainty about whether this Agreement will be ratified is a matter of concern to current and potential UK participants in these programmes. (Paragraph 88)

4.The Government has guaranteed to underwrite funding for successful UK bids to EU programmes until the end of 2020, if the UK leaves the EU without a deal. However, the Government still needs to agree terms with the EU for UK organisations to continue to participate in Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020 projects as third country entities. (Paragraph 89)

5.We note the European Commission’s current unwillingness to engage in discussions on possible actions to protect people on Erasmus+ exchanges and Horizon 2020 projects in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit, but urge the Government to continue its efforts to reach a resolution with the Commission to avoid disruption. We remain extremely concerned about the lack of time available to negotiate and confirm these ‘no deal’ contingency plans. If a resolution cannot be agreed, the Government should use funds set aside for the underwrite guarantee to establish replacement UK mobility and research funding schemes as quickly as possible. (Paragraph 90)

6.The Government should, as a matter of urgency, provide further information on how it intends the underwrite guarantee to operate in practice, including who will disburse the funding and what terms and conditions will apply to beneficiaries. We recommend that schedules for releasing payments and monitoring and reporting systems should be as similar to those set out in the original grant agreements as possible, to provide certainty and minimise disruption for UK participants transitioning to the new system. (Paragraph 91)

7.Of particular concern to the UK’s research community is the loss of access to key sources of UK Horizon 2020 funding, including the European Research Council and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, which are not open to third country participation and so are not covered by the underwrite guarantee. We note that the Government is keenly aware of this issue and emphasise the importance of confirming replacements for these funding streams as soon as possible. (Paragraph 92)

8.We welcome indications that the UK and EU are willing to work together on the free flow of data and regulatory alignment with regard to clinical trials and chemical registration. This will be essential to facilitate continued international research collaboration. (Paragraph 93)

Future UK policy options

9.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. (Paragraph 172)


10.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. (Paragraph 173)

11.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. (Paragraph 174)

12.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”. (Paragraph 175)

13.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. (Paragraph 176)

14.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. (Paragraph 177)

15.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. (Paragraph 178)


16.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. (Paragraph 179)

17.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. (Paragraph 180)

18.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. (Paragraph 181)

19.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. (Paragraph 182)

20.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. (Paragraph 183)

21.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. (Paragraph 184)

22.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. (Paragraph 185)

Cross-cutting issues

23.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. (Paragraph 186)

24.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. (Paragraph 187)

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