UK universities’ response to Brexit? Just move to Paris

20 Feb 2017

Oxford University. Image: Pawel Pajor/Shutterstock

Oxford University has denied it is considering opening up a French base to tackle the inevitable funding headaches brought about by Brexit.

Oxford University may have found a way to navigate the choppy waters between the UK and Europe, with reports of a new Parisian base emerging.

The Telegraph reports that French officials have visited numerous UK universities, including Oxford, with a view to expanding across the channel.


Given the uncertainty surrounding the UK’s withdrawal from the EU’s economic bloc – and by extension, the probability that EU funding will slow to a halt in the UK – the idea of opening a new European base makes sense.

According to the report, Oxford has been told that any campus opened in France would have French legal status and would continue to receive EU funding.

As part of the plans, British universities would “relocate” degree courses and study programmes, and create joint degrees and research laboratories.

A spokesman for Oxford said no decision had yet been taken, but added: “Oxford has been an international university throughout its history and it is determined to remain open to the world, whatever the future political landscape looks like.”

Since the story took wings, the university has now denied it would take up the offer of setting up shop in Paris.

When the Brexit vote passed, UK universities and other research institutions were immediately spooked.

With the top six UK universities alone leading, or partnering in, Horizon 2020 (H2020) projects worth almost €500m last summer, uncertainty among scientists was understandable.

State of play

The European Commission (EC) oversees the H2020 programme and would presumably need to give approval for such a tactic to be successful.

It’s a programme that the UK government could get involved in, too, with EU governments generally quite active in the space of scientific funding and recruiting experts from overseas.

In Ireland, for example, €5m in H2020 funding is being put into a programme called Career-FIT that will try to woo 50 international researchers to Irish tech centres.

Experienced researcher applicants who take part in the programme will work within market-focused applied research through three-year fellowships, with secondment into industry through the technology centres.

Under the Career-FIT programme, two calls will be issued to potential researchers, each of which will see 25 fellowships awarded.

Elsewhere, a new 12-person ‘high-level group’ in the EU, with scientific funding the main priority, has been set up by the EC.

The list of members, including Prof Mark Ferguson, director general of Science Foundation Ireland, “hold key posts in universities or research organisations, are leaders of industrial giants and dynamic SMEs, serve in high-level policy positions in national or international organisations, and play important roles in civil society organisations”.

Headed by Pascal Lamy, president emeritus of the Jacques Delors Institute, the group will look at how EU research funding is distributed and investigate how to boost its impact.

Updated, 4.00pm, 20 February 2016: This article was updated to include a denial, via Twitter, from Oxford University and to amend the intro.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic