Brexit: Horizon 2020

Oral Answers to Questions — Employment and Learning – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 9th February 2016.

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Photo of Claire Hanna Claire Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party 2:30 pm, 9th February 2016

T4. Ms Hanna asked the Minister for Employment and Learning to outline the impact that the loss of the Horizon 2020 fund would have on local universities in the event of the UK withdrawal from the EU. (AQT 3464/11-16)

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

That sounds almost like a planted question. It would be quite catastrophic. As the Member will know, we are talking about a fund that amounts to close to €80 billion over the next seven years. That is a Europe-wide intervention and provides added value to what can be done through the quality-related research (QR) funding that we give domestically to our universities.

We have other pots of international funding that we can also access, but Horizon 2020 provides new openings and the opportunity for partnerships to be built across national boundaries. That is very important in the modern world of research, where things do not exist in a bubble. Particularly on some very sophisticated research projects, you need to have that scalability and be able to bring a lot of partners in from different institutions. That would not happen to the same extent if the UK was going alone. Some people may argue that additional funding would be made available to research, but you would lose the added value that comes from the potential for international collaboration between academics from different jurisdictions.

Photo of Claire Hanna Claire Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Minister for his answer. I assure Members that that was not a planted question, and neither is this one. Has the Minister's Department done a wider audit of the funding and opportunities that would be lost in the unfortunate event of a Brexit, and of how that funding shortfall or deficit would be met by departmental resources?

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

There really is no plan B. If we lose the European money, we lose the European money, and we will suffer as a consequence. That will be very much to our detriment. In addition to Horizon 2020, my Department probably avails itself of more pots of European funding than any other Department. Obviously, we would lose ERASMUS+, which, again, would not just be an issue of funding; it is also about opening up opportunities for our young people to experience learning in different parts of the European Union and elsewhere, which is incredibly important. That programme has been extended to apprentices, so we can have exchanges outside the context of university students.

Obviously, we have the European social fund, which makes an enormous difference and allows us to do things that we simply could not do within our mainstream budgets. We cannot simply recoup that money, and anyone who thinks that we are going to get a big pay cheque from the UK Treasury to make up the shortfall for the European money that we would lose is in la-la land.