As negotiations regarding the EU-UK future relations enter a critical phase, EUA calls on both parties to look for compromise and not to lose sight of a key element of the big picture, which is that continued cooperation in research, innovation and education is highly beneficial for all involved.
It is encouraging that negotiations are continuing despite the difficult circumstances; however, time is short and the parties still seem far from each other. In this situation, there is a real danger that the close relation in research and higher education will be at risk: not only because of the failure to reach agreement in other areas, but also potentially if the parties do not show the necessary will to compromise on practical topics, even if they agree on the common goal.
When it comes to research and higher education, there has been wide consensus in both the EU and the UK since the referendum in 2016 that these are areas of common interest and that cooperation can and should continue using the existing possibilities for third countries to associate to the EU’s research and education programmes, Horizon Europe and Erasmus+.
EUA believes that it is essential that Horizon Europe and Erasmus+ are open to the world; the current pandemic has underlined the need for international cooperation, openness and mechanisms that allow the best minds to come together to tackle the most pressing global problems. By including the UK as an associate country, the EU would avoid losing a partner with an exceptionally strong research profile, which is also a magnet for student mobility. The UK would retain access to unique, cooperative funding programmes, where its research sector has always done remarkably well. Moreover, both parties would continue to reap the fruits of excellent European research, education and innovation. This is still the main premise for the negotiations about continued UK participation in EU programmes, and this shared interest should be the guiding principle for the negotiations.
The results of the programmes are of mutual benefit, and UK participation should be seen as part of a common investment that allows the best minds to work together across borders and gives students the opportunity of a life-changing international experience. Of course, the UK financial contribution should have a relation to participation in the programme as a third country and to the size of the UK economy. However, looking at the big picture here means remembering that contributing or receiving marginally more or less bears no comparison to the common benefits of working together.
Given the strong and repeated common wish of universities in the EU and the UK to continue to collaborate, keeping the UK universities in EU programmes is a high priority across the continent. It is clearly in the common interest and is clearly achievable. In this context, negotiators on both sides should look for a compromise on the details and never lose sight of the big picture.