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Brexit is a sad moment, as is always the case whenever a member of a community leaves. But for European universities, it may be felt as a particular blow. Amanda Crowfoot, EUA Secretary General, talks to The Guardian.

Brexit is a sad moment, as is always the case whenever a member of a community leaves. But for European universities, it may be felt as a particular blow. We’ve been overwhelmingly in favour of the UK staying in the European Union because of our strong tradition of working across borders, whether it’s researchers working in international teams to make groundbreaking discoveries or students spending their formative years in the Erasmus programme.

We’re also connected by a common sense of purpose and the recognition that we can do more together than we can alone. I have worked in Brussels for nearly two decades, mostly facilitating UK engagement in EU research and education programmes and fostering cross-border cooperation, and I have witnessed both the desire to work collaboratively and the tangible benefits this collaboration brings to universities and society.

The good news is that this is likely to continue after Brexit, thanks to plans to keep the UK in European research funding and student mobility programmes, such as Erasmus and Horizon Europe. But the bad news is that if we want this transition to be smooth, time is short. Universities in the UK and the EU need to pressure the negotiating teams to stay on track.

Several issues are likely to complicate negotiations: Should the UK take part in all or only some areas of EU research and education programmes? How should financial contributions be calculated? How much alignment on rules do we need between the UK and the EU, for instance regarding mobility of researchers and students? This can all too easily become an exercise in petty calculations about who gives and who receives more, but knowledge is not a zero-sum game; we will all benefit from working closely together, as we have in the past.

For this reason, the sensible goal is full association of the UK to the Horizon research funding programme and Erasmus student mobility at the very least. This is what universities in Europe want.

We must also be more ambitious for the new relationship. The EU is planning to strengthen the European Research Area, as well as form the European Education Area, and the UK needs to be part of this. These areas will reflect the fact that Europe is like no other place in the world: its potential to produce transformative research, education and innovation is unique thanks to the high number of large research-intensive universities with different cultural contexts and traditions across a wide geographical area.

These capabilities are bolstered by Europe’s culture of cooperation, which has been shaped by the unusual possibility of working in a truly multilateral, international funding system through the EU research programmes. Europe is the only place where there is a system that allows universities from many countries to come together around many different subjects.

The UK is a valuable piece of this puzzle: it has the most high-level research outputs, is a leader in new technology and is the most popular destination for mobile students. Europe will lose out if the UK is missing, and the UK will suffer if it stands on the sidelines while the EU becomes a global hub for research and education. Neither the US nor China will provide alternatives to what the EU has the potential to offer.

This year will be crucial. The negotiations on the future relationship between the EU and the UK will set the foundations for continued close cooperation in research and education. Universities across the continent must be united in their aim to reach quick and comprehensive agreements on the formal structures, with priority given to continuous and full association to the Erasmus and Horizon Europe programmes. Time is short and the process will be complex, but there is will and there is a way.


Amanda Crowfoot is Secretary General of the European University AssociationWith 850 members across 48 countries, the association is the largest and most comprehensive organisation representing universities in Europe. EUA has recently produced an in-depth policy brief “Brexit – what now for universities? about the way forward for UK association to EU programmes. 


This article was originally published by The Guardian on 5 February 2020.


Amanda Crowfoot
European University Association

Amanda Crowfoot joined EUA as Secretary General in January 2020. She is responsible for co-developing and implementing the Association’s strategic plan and is an ambassador for all members, presenting a collective vision of strong universities in Europe and leading a team of 40 staff members in offices in Brussels and Geneva.

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