The European Union – the benefits to education and research in the UK

The European Union provides enormous benefits to UK students, UK academics,  and UK Universities in supporting and carrying out teaching, knowledge transfer and research.

Examples of European support for students includes the ERASMUS exchange scheme which supports students to study or work abroad in a company. The European Union also supports the development of new and innovative teaching at all levels of education primarily through the ERASMUS+  funding mechanisms.

Similarly, with respect to enterprise and knowledge transfer, if you are thinking of starting up your own business you may want to take part in the ERASMUS young entrepreneurs scheme; or if you are an established business (trading for more than 3 years) hosting someone from another country in Europe.

In terms of research funding,  the results of the recent Research Excellence Framework (2014) in the UK demonstrates just how important Europe has been and it is likely to become even more important for funding of research in the UK in the future.

To give one example – Panel C of REF covered the following disciplines (Units of Assessment in the jargon): Architecture, Built Environment and Planning, Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology, Economics and Econometrics, Business and Management Studies, Law, Politics and International Studies, Social Work and Social Policy, Sociology, Anthropology and Development Studies, Education, Sport and Exercise Sciences, Leisure and Tourism. Figure 1 clearly demonstrates a precipitous decline in UK government funding since 2004-05  (about 50% or 80 million) — remember those heady days of evidence-led policy! Secondly, research council funding  also declined in real terms due to inflation with every other source of funding static except the EU government.

Remember that we are talking here about only the best University departments and best academics being entered into the REF exercise. So despite extensive efforts by academics and government to get more money and investment from the private sector it is not happening and UK government sources of funding are in decline. Ominously, there is still no word on what will happen with QR funding and it may well be cut again as it was in the last funding round. The only source of funding that increased since 2007-8 is the EU government i.e Commission.  

Sources of funding panel C in British Universities

The most recent results for the EU annual call for research funding are here (2014). This shows that  the UK was the second largest beneficiary of Horizon 2020 funds in the first round of calls, with nearly EUR 527 million received by more than 500 UK organisations. UK universities do very well in Europe and are well regarded.

Given this overwhelming evidence of the many valuable European benefits to UK higher education, it is not surprising that campaigns are beginning to counter misinformation on Europe, and thus influence a referendum vote. This post in the Guardian describes potential impacts on science research of pulling out of the EU and scientists are already mobilizing on social media and here on twitter. British Influence has established a website and campaign to support us staying in the EU and to put the positive case.

Universities UK which represents 133 UK universities is also supporting a pro European REMAIN campaign. So from Vice Chancellors to the National Union of Students, the University sector is overwhelmingly in favour of staying in the EU. 

Of course most of this post has just dealt with the financial aspects of funding, but international collaboration provides a much wider range of tangible and intangible benefits. Being exposed to new cultures and sharing of knowledge leads to new innovation and research as well as providing us with insights to what has been tried before. My personal experience of working on a number of EU projects over the last 5 or 6 years has given me  a number of new friends and colleagues, and has directly lead to collaborating and sharing to improve the economies and societies in Europe.

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