EU Day in May saw a pro-Brexit rally in CambridgeLOUIS ASHWORTH

“All faculties are concerned about funding,” said Professor Catherine Barnard.

“Brexit doesn’t just take us down a dead-end, it takes us into the danger zone”, said Dr Victoria Bateman.

In light of the current uncertainties surrounding Brexit, Varsity has spoken to several academics at Cambridge about their opinions on the UK’s departure from the EU and its effects on the University and higher education.

Research was a primary point of concern for many, with both funding and collaboration across Europe potentially affected.

Barnard, Professor of European Union and Employment Law, said: “Clearly [Brexit] will be serious in that we will lose access to EU funding, although current EU funds will be underwritten by the UK government.”

Cambridge is likely to be particularly affected by any changes in funding from the EU. According to the University, EU research grants account for almost 18% of Cambridge’s total research income, with the University receiving an average of around £60bn per year in new grants and awards in recent years.

Professor Gerard Evan, Head of the Department of Biochemistry, said that some of “the most obvious casualties” of Brexit will be the loss of certain EU funding sources.

He described the European Research Council (ERC) as “one of the great achievements of the EU”, saying that it has “allowed scientists to build an independent research council” that isn’t “run by politics”. He said that ERC grants “have become very much part of the woodwork of what we do”, and believes that, following Brexit “there is no legal basis for us to hold those grants.”

The ERC is part of the Horizon 2020 funding programme. The UK government has given assurances that it will fund any programmes enrolled in the programme up until 2020, but no framework has yet been confirmed for future funding partnerships.

ERC grants account for nearly 60% of the University’s EU research funding, and therefore around 10% of Cambridge’s total research income. According to the University, Cambridge and Oxford, which receive equal levels of funding, have more ERC grants than any other university in Europe.

“This basic fact will not be changed by Brexit, even if present uncertainty may cause a blip.”

Wolfson fellow and chief scientific adviser to the Prime Minister in the Czech Republic Professor Rudolf Hanka, is less concerned about EU funding, seeing Brexit as an opportunity to get rid of bureaucracy. He said:From my experience it is usually hardly worth having EU funding because of the excessive administration that acceptance of any EU grant requires.”

Professor Hanka, alongside Professor Robert Tombs, Emeritus professor of French history at St John’s, both advocate a no-deal Brexit. They recently, alongside 13 other academics, co-wrote a letter in The Guardian criticising what they view as the scaremongering of certain higher education bodies, including the Russell Group, about the effects of Brexit.

Professor Tombs is confident in the ability of Cambridge academics to continue to have access to EU funding. “Sixteen non-EU countries take part in [Horizon 2020] programmes, and Britain will doubtless continue to do so after Brexit.”

However, according to the UK government, “third country participation does not extend to some Horizon 2020 calls”, including ERC grants and some MCSA grants. “The government is seeking discussions with the European Commission to agree the details of our continued participation as a third country.”

Professor Barnard said: “It may be that the government says it will replace lost opportunities for EU funding with UK equivalents, but the trouble is we’re just not sure that the government will be able to deliver”. She added, “the trouble is a lot of these programmes are connected with having free movement.”

Professor Evan, meanwhile, has “no confidence whatsoever in the fact the British government will make up the money.”

He is concerned that the UK government will focus on “worth-generating projects”, and that it will not properly understand the nature of innovative research.

“Most people out there who don’t do research think it’s a process rather than a discovery... Discovery is not something that our political masters like because it’s not predictable and it relies on smart people doing weird stuff and supporting them.”

“Cambridge should be a bastion of a place where smart people are supported to do weird out-of-the-box stuff… and I think if that dies, then we’ll lose our edge as the pre-eminent university in the world.”

Funding and immigration have been identified by some academics as potential problems resulting from Brexit, though some are less concernedLOUIS ASHWORTH

Dr Bateman – an Economics Fellow at Gonville and Caius, who has frequently criticised Brexit, most recently in a talk delivered on Monday entitled ‘Brexit: the Naked Truth’ – said that the possible effects of Brexit on research go way beyond funding. “Collaboration across borders is central to Europe’s ability to remain at the scientific frontier, pushing it ever forwards. Science has gone global, so despite what many Brexiteers claim, we cannot possibly hope to return to the supposedly halcyon days of the Victorian inventor, when Britain was the richest economy in the world, without holding on to cross-country collaborations.”

The University has sought to mitigate this: Vice Chancellor Stephen Toope has said that the University has signed strategic partnerships with the Max Planck Society, the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and Sciences Po in Paris, and “will continue to seek out collaborations with organisations that share our aspirations.”

Dr Bateman also emphasised the importance of the freedom of movement for the University, saying that “freedom of movement is also essential to our continued success as an institution” and that “Cambridge needs to be able to attract great minds from overseas.”

Whilst the details of immigration plans after Brexit have yet to be determined, freedom of movement is one of Prime Minister Theresa May’s ‘red lines’, meaning that she intends any future relationship with the EU to at least partially restrict immigration between the UK and the EU.

20.3% of Cambridge staff (2,459) are from non-UK EU/EEA countries and 24% of its postgraduate students (2,462) are non-UK EU/EEA nationals.

“It is a disaster, and certainly will not be good for the Department, or the University.”

“I think the greatest concern to the University is the future immigration policy,” said Professor Barnard, adding that “the cost and associated bureaucracy are vast.”

Silke Mentchen, a Senior Language Teaching Officer at the MML Faculty, acknowledged that the effect of Brexit on the recruitment of academics to the MML Faculty is “impossible to predict”, but warned that “not knowing how a country will be governed is not necessarily conducive to academics wanting to work in that country”.

Although the number of undergraduates from the EU at Russell Group universities increased marginally, by 1%, in the past academic year, the number of taught postgraduate students fell by 5%, and the number of postgraduate research students, on whom many science departments rely, saw a 9% decrease.

Professor Tombs, however, is confident that this is only a temporary drop: “postgraduate students come to British universities from all over the world, as well as from the EU.”

He added that “this basic fact will not be changed by Brexit, even if present uncertainty may cause a blip.”

Professor Evan, however, is a critic of lax attitudes to student recruitment that place confidence on the University’s standing. “It won’t be places like Cambridge that suffer immediately”, he said, but raised concerns that damage would be done throughout the UK’s higher education sector, eventually harming every institution.

“This is my greatest fear – complacency.”

However, both Professor Tombs and Professor Hanka emphasised the democratic effects of Brexit.

Professor Hanka remarked that, even if the UK leaves the EU, “we can participate in EU programmes [and] mutual academic exchanges without surrendering sovereignty or accepting destructive conditions.”

“We should not primarily be approaching this issue in terms of particular interests,” said Professor Tombs when asked about the positive effects of Brexit on higher education, “but in terms of the general welfare of democracy and society, both in Britain and in other parts of Europe. Universities have a duty to be concerned for more than their own corporate interests.”

Dr Bateman was, however, more pessimistic: “What society has upped the volume on anti-immigration rhetoric – as well as leaving the most basic freedoms of millions hanging in the balance and – gone on to be a happy and successful one? I can’t think of one.”


Mountain View

What Brexit could mean for research in Cambridge

She added that the effects of Brexit at the University go beyond academia: “Plenty of our bedders, kitchen staff and other staff within the University come from the EU – we’d starve and die of insanitary conditions if it wasn’t for all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes, all too often unnoticed, and much of it by people from abroad!”

Explaining his view on Brexit, Professor Geoffrey Smith, Head of the Department of Pathology, was concise: “It is a disaster, and certainly will not be good for the Department, or the University.”

In May the University released a report on possible strategic responses to four Brexit scenarios, covering the issues of funding, people, collaboration, commercial operations and infrastructure and buildings.

Stephen Toope said in October: “There should be no doubt about Cambridge’s place in the world. We are and will remain a global university."

Sponsored links