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The UK Government Trials New Post Brexit Funding Scheme For University Research
[Image:  thePipeLine]

thePipeLine analyses a report from the British Academy which has highlighted another of the unforeseen consequences of the Government following a so called “Hard Brexit”, after last years controversial referendum on membership of the European Union.   A threat to the funding of research archaeology which could see cash available to fund programmes cut by over one third.


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With General Election campaigning set to resume today, Friday [26 May 2017] following the pause out of respect for the victims of Monday’s Manchester bombing, the publication of a report into the level of EU funding provided to academic disciplines in the UK has provided archaeologists with fresh and urgent questions to aim at candidates in the election.  The British Academy Report published on Wednesday [24 May 2017] shows that Archaeology receives 38% of its research funding from EU government bodies, more than any other subject in the study including such major economic drivers as Information Technology.   However, with both the Conservatives and Labour committed to withdrawal from the EU and with the Conservatives also committed to withdrawal from all EU institutions, to be replaced by a possible opt in to certain areas of cooperation which are yet to be specified, both political parties will need to come up with a position which accounts for the potential loss of funding which will follow inevitably.  If they fail to do this they will need to take responsibility for the possible decimation of the UK research community and, when it comes to archaeology, severe damage to a sector which Professor Simon Keay of Southampton University claimed in a press release accompanying the report is a

“phenomenal illustration of UK excellence”.

The report, which was authored by the Technopolis Group, was commissioned by the UK’s four national academies – the British Academy, the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society and the results are based on analysis of the latest available official data from the Higher Education Statistics Authority [HESA] (from 2014/2015).  Each research discipline was ranked by the proportion of research funding derived from EU sources.  Archaeology topped the funding league table with 38% of research funds coming from the EU.  Archaeology’s sister subject Classics came second in the table with 33% of research funds coming from EU sources.  Meanwhile, although it is Science and the so called Hi Tech industries which are most often mentioned in connection with fears over a post Brexit research funding crash, Information Technology was the highest recipient of EU funding from that sector only appearing at third place on the list.  Another area overlapping with archaeology and heritage, Anthropology, was in receipt of 23% of research income from the EU.

Currently research funding is available to UK researchers under various European Union programmes, principally EU Framework Programmes for research and innovation, European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF), specifically funding for research and innovation under the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and finally loans from the European Investment Bank (EIB).   However, with the polls still indicating that the Conservative Party is most likely to form the next Government, possibly with a large majority, archaeologists and researchers in the heritage sector will be concerned that the Conservative manifesto merely promises that,

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“There may be specific European programmes in which we might want to participate and if so, it will be reasonable that we make a contribution.”

It will be a particular concern that the “hard” or “cliff edge”  Brexit, which critics of the May Government’s EU policy claim is being talked up by some on the right of the Conservative Party and by UKIP,  could see research funding to the archaeology and heritage sector cut by over a third almost overnight.

In the wider academic sphere a specific concern to many academic researchers is maintaining continued access to the Horizon 2020 programme.  Access can be maintained for partners outside the formal structures of the EU by subscription, as is the case with Norway. Of the Horizon 2020 programme the report notes that,

“Horizon 2020 in turn is unique, and is the only international research and innovation programme of scale anywhere in the world. Other international research programmes are orders of magnitude smaller and often more narrowly based geographically and/or thematically.”

The report points out that up to the end of 2016 UK projects had received a total of €2.6 billion (£2.2 billion) from Horizon 2020, with the prospect of more to come.

Prior to the General Election being called the Government was already coming under pressure on the issue of Horizon 2020 in particular and as a result Chancellor Phillip Hammond had announced it would underwrite funds for Horizon 2020 programmes signed before the UK leaves the EU, currently April 2019.  Other programmes were guaranteed until 2020. However, there has been a conspicuous silence on what will happen to funding after 2019 and Academic researchers and research bodies will be keen to ask candidates if they will guarantee that funding derived at present from Horizon 2020 and its successors will be matched or increased by a UK Government, if and when the UK ends up outside the EU with no deal on access to EU programmes.

Such clarity over funding is of vital importance because major research projects take many months, if not years to plan and fund and involve the building of partnerships, the appointment of staff and attracting research students.  All issues which are also affected by potential changes to UK foreign, funding and immigration policies post Brexit and a possible withdrawal from the thirty year old and highly regarded Erasmus+ Programme facilitating the ability of students and researchers to work in member states of the programme.  The EU states that currently € 1,749,190,000 are committed to education and training under the programme, to be spent across the EU.




 The increasing importance of EU funding to UK Research Archaeology shown by the distribution of EU government and UK government income as a proportion of total funding to Archaeology, 2006/07-2014/15 HESA Data
[The British Academy/Technopolis]

Turning to archaeology specifically, the report presents the discipline as uniquely dependent on EU funding.  The authors note that,

“This increasing dependency on EU funding can be in part explained by the availability of and success of UK-based archaeologists in winning competitive ERC funding, which was launched in 2007 under FP7. ERC grants are unique to the discipline because of the size of the grants (enabling sufficient funding for the salary of academics working at different career stages), the length of the grants, and the collaborative nature of the funding.”

The report concludes,

“For Archaeology, there are no other sources of multiannual funding of this magnitude available.”

In a separate case study the report authors note that the impact of archaeology is not limited to research, but can also have a positive effect on local economies.  One instance of this benefit being work at Old Scatness on the Shetland Islands, of which the University of Bradford reported,

“As noted in the REF impact case study, the archaeological research at Old Scatness has positively influenced the cultural identity and tourist sector of the islands, inspiring the design and creation of a range of products. Artefacts found at the site are now on display at the £11.6 million Shetland Museum that opened in 2007.”

The implication of the report is clear.  Any incoming Government leaving the European Union would need to replicate this level and scope of funding for archaeology, or it will be likely to oversee a significant decline in sector capacity, with a consequent impact on the capability to support major infrastructure projects such as HS2 and even routine developer funded work.

Responding to the report Dr Mike Heyworth, director of the Council for British Archaeology, the charity which bridges professional and vocational archaeology in the UK, echoed the words of Professor Keay telling thePipeLine,

“Many archaeology departments at UK universities are world-leading institutions at the forefront of research and teaching and it is no surprise that they are highly successful at securing research funding from EU sources – it reflects the international and multidisciplinary nature of modern archaeological research.”

Dr Heyworth added,

“If this funding is all lost following Brexit it will obviously have potentially catastrophic implications for university archaeology in the UK. We are already seeing threats to archaeology staffing levels and degree programmes at universities in England and Wales, and other threats may follow. The Council for British Archaeology supports the call of the British Academy and the other national academies that the Government needs to address the situation urgently and offer additional funding to fill the funding gap which will be created by Brexit.”

There are also fears that the loss of significant capacity in research archaeology could have effects which are not confined simply to the economics of running a University research project which has the potential to attract staff and students at all levels, but especially lucrative PhD and Post Doctoral researchers.  There could be significant cultural impacts as well.  Eminent prehistorian Dr Rachel Pope of the University of Liverpool told Buzzfeed news,

“It’s vital for society to know where it’s come from, and to understand its past. Particularly with the issues today, like migration, ethnicity, identity, archaeology has the ability to talk about in deep time perspective, and all we’re seeing currently is cuts to our ability to do that,” she summed up this potential cultural loss saying. “It’s really depleting British society and our own perspective on ourselves.”

However, with Whitehall departments in pre General Election purdah, and thus unable to make any comments regarding policy it is unlikely that there will be any reaction to the report from the Department for Culture Media and Sport, or the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy  until the new Government is in place after the General Election on 8 June.  However, there is nothing to stop archaeologists raising the issue of maintaining or replacing EU funding with candidates of all parties and publicising the results.

Publication of the British Academy report also means that the candidates of all parties can have no excuse for not being aware fully of the damage that a so called  hard or cliff edge Brexit, with no effort to maintain or replace EU funding programmes could have on one of the most important sectors of the UK economy, world class research,  of which archaeology is just one part, if a particularly vibrant and successful part.  At least for now.

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thePipeLine is an independent news publication that investigates the place that heritage, politics, and money meet.


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