The EU commission has provided the fundingJA179

A significant proportion of the income of University schools comes from the European Union, a Varsity investigation has revealed. According to University finance reports, this means that Brexit could result in significant “financial uncertainties and risks” for research.

In the financial year ending in July 2017, University schools, which are groupings of related faculties and departments, received a total £59,220,000 in research funding from the EU Commission, covering 640 grants, as well as £10,683,000 for further costs. This represents 12.7% of Cambridge’s external research income overall. The EU is the University’s third largest source of such funding, after UK charities (30.59%) and Research Councils (31.5%).

A Freedom of Information request by Varsity revealed the extent to which reliance on EU funding varies by academic school. In the year 2016-17, Physical Sciences (incorporating departments such as Applied and Pure Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Earth Sciences, and Geography) was the largest recipient, with £19.5 million. Biological Sciences and Clinical Medicine also received amounts of over £10 million. The School of Arts and Humanities received the least, at £3.1 million.

However, these figures do not reveal the extent to which these schools depend currently on EU funds. Clinical Medicine, for example, was granted £10.4 million – yet this figure represents only 5.9% of the school’s external research income. In contrast, the EU provided nearly 30% of comparable funding for the School of Humanities and Social Sciences (comprising the History, Economics, Education and Human, Social and Political Sciences faculties). Figures for Arts and the Humanities and Physical Sciences were 22% and 20.3% respectively.

These funds are provided by the EU Commission via a variety of schemes, such as the Horizon 2020 initiative. Cambridge University’s 2016 Annual Financial Report noted that the University had “continued to perform strongly with the European Research Council” and that it had “been confirmed as the leading University recipient of funding” under this scheme. The report termed the Brexit result “a significant challenge” to research income. The 2017 report is yet to be released.

Meanwhile, the University’s Annual Report for General Board to the Council in 2017 stated that “loss of European Research Council funding would likely impact on the University’s ability to engage leading researchers.” According to the report, the University “engages with government on Brexit issues” and “has established working groups to keep all aspects of Brexit under review.” It emphasises Brexit as one of “the University’s key financial uncertainties and risks”.


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Despite this, the data seen by Varsity indicates that there has been a net increase in EU funds over the last five years. Between the years 2012-13 and 2015-16, overall EU research grants to Cambridge’s academic schools grew from £43.5 million to £60.9 million - a rise of 40%. This figure dipped slightly in 2016-17 to £58 million. The total funding received from the EU Commission last year was £59,200,000.

This reduction could be part of a wider decline in UK universities accessing EU funding, even prior to Britain officially leaving the Union. According to the Observer, the UK received 3% less funds from the Horizon 2020 initiative in September 2017 when compared to 2016.

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, has said the British government is seeking “a far-reaching science and innovation pact with the EU” from Brexit negotiations. Nevertheless, the specifics of any such agreement on research funding remain unclear.

In February, a similar investigation by Cherwell, a student newspaper at the University of Oxford, revealed that some departments at the University of Oxford depend on the EU for as much as 75% of their external research income.

The University’s EU Working Group said that “European networks play an invaluable role in the research and enterprise activities of the University, and the referendum result may have a potentially negative impact on EU funding and collaboration.”

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