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“No changes in geo-political structures or inter-governmental agreements will diminish our enthusiasm for, and commitment to, internationalisation”

30 April 2021

Professors Hugh Brady, Stuart Corbridge and Peter Mathieson, respectively Presidents/Principal of Universities of Bristol, Durham and Edinburgh

In the Coimbra Group newsletter dated 30 September 2019, we wrote about the aspects of Brexit which most concerned us at that timepoint. Now that Brexit has been completed, we have been asked to give our updated views and we are pleased to do so.

We welcome the fact that a trade and cooperation deal was agreed between the UK and the EU. The alternative, a “no deal” scenario, was deeply unattractive for UK universities as for so many other parts of our society. We are delighted that UK universities will continue to have access to EU research funding schemes and we fervently hope that as an “associated country” to Horizon Europe we can continue to contribute to thought leadership in the design and execution of these programmes as well as to participation in the delivery of the research itself. We note with concern that it is not yet fully clear how the UK Government will fund the UK’s participation in these schemes: the recent announcement of some new funding was welcome but areas of uncertainty remain. We hope that the funding of UK participation will not detract from other Government commitments on research and innovation, areas in which the UK has so much strength to offer, particularly concentrated in its research-intensive universities. We were disappointed that the UK will no longer participate in Erasmus+ schemes: as major past beneficiaries of these schemes, we wish to see alternative mechanisms for our students and staff to have access to the international mobility which we know can make major contributions to their individual development, to our institutional collaborations and to the economic and social well-being of our countries. The establishment by the UK Government of an alternative scheme, the Turing scheme, is welcome and the stated aims that this will be a truly global scheme and one that is preferentially targeted at students from less advantaged backgrounds are noble ambitions which we strongly support. However, the Turing scheme has only been funded for an initial one year period and we consider that this is too short a period for a meaningful evaluation of its effectiveness, so we hope that the funding commitment will be extended. We hope that governments will include aspects of university education including mobility of students and staff in their negotiations over trade agreements in the post-Brexit world. Universities make major contributions to economies, to exports and to societal benefits and we hope they will be mainstreamed alongside other sectors.

Our international collaborations with like-minded universities in continental Europe are more important to us than ever. Alliances like the Coimbra Group provide a long history of collaboration, friendship and partnership. No changes in geo-political structures or inter-governmental agreements will diminish our enthusiasm for, and commitment to, internationalisation. We greatly appreciate the solidarity of our Coimbra Group partners and we hope and believe that the members of our university communities will continue to benefit for many generations to come.