By John Kerr 15/07/2016 1


In the wake of the Brexit vote, UK scientists have been extremely worried over uncertainties about European Union research funding – closer to home the question is ‘what does it mean for NZ science?’

Things are looking tough for the UK science sector. According The Guardian:

“The backlash against UK researchers began immediately after the June referendum when the failure to plan for a post-Brexit Britain cast serious doubts over the chances of British organisations winning future EU funding.

“British researchers receive about £1bn a year from EU finding programmes such as Horizon 2020, but access to the money must be completely renegotiated under Brexit.”

How much is NZ getting from UK Horizon 2020 projects?

Horizon 2020The Horizon 2020 Framework is by far the EU’s biggest research fund– and apparently the one most UK scientists are now worried about.

I’m no expert on international science funding but I thought it would be interesting to dig into the data to see just how much EU funding New Zealand is getting, and particularly how much of it is coming via UK led projects.

First a disclaimer. This is just a back-of-the-envelope look at the available data from the biggest EU research fund; there are other funding sources and numerous ways that decreased EU funding for the UK will have knock-effects for collaborators around the world, including Kiwis.

That said, in terms of immediate exposure, it doesn’t look like New Zealanders are collaborating much on Horizon 2020 projects led by UK institutions.

A cursory look at the current project data from Horizon 2020 reveals that, of a total of 7552 projects listed as signed-off, only four include New Zealand organisations as participants. Of those, only one – a study of asthma – was led by UK researchers.

The total funding for that project is 2 million Euros, so nothing to sniff at for the Massey University researchers who are involved. But in the scheme of the overall funding programme, New Zealand isn’t heavily tied up in-UK led projects.

Brexit still bad for UK Science

According to the Horizon 2020 data, the UK is currently leading almost 1,500 separate projects, totaling more than 2.2 billion euros. With the UK leaving the EU, that level of funding cannot be expected in future.

Just after the referendum, the UK Science Media Centre gathered reaction from a host of science leaders, including Prof Paul Boyle, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester, and former President of Science Europe. He warned:

“There will be questions that must be addressed over our ability to continue to access the very significant levels of European funding for research and how the government will make up for any losses.”

A silver lining for non-EU countries post-Brexit?

The ending of exclusive agreements between the UK and EU could provide opportunities for other collaborators. Professor Les Field at the Australian Academy of Science noted to the Australian SMC:

“The UK will now potentially be more open to the rest of the world – having the UK as part of the EU has often meant that there was preferential access to positions, resources, collaborations etc for those that were part of the EU and lifting that restriction may provide new opportunities.”

Featured image: DSmith/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)


One Response to “Brexit: how will it impact NZ science?”

  • Brexit is going to reduce scientific collaboration across the EU and kill off some major advances that have been made in the last 20 years. E.g. my son is one of the pioneers for high precision measurements of atmospheric oxygen that have started to tell us a lot about changes in the biosphere. He has coordinated this type of work across the EU but is now based at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, and expects this collaboration to get closed down. We’re dealing with an increasing number of global problems and separating into different ivory towers, as now looks likely with disintegration of the EU, will make that worse.