You’ve just come back from the seminar for vice presidents in charge of international relations in universities. Did you discuss the Brexit with your counterparts?
Pierre van de Weghe: The result of the referendum was a real shock. In the coming years, universities in the United Kingdom will be hit hard by the result both in training and research. The British university community has estimated the cost of the withdrawal from the European Union for higher education and research at almost a billion pounds. The Royal Society provides a comprehensive evaluation of the possible consequences of the Brexit.
It’s also likely that collaborations between British research groups and their colleagues from European Union member states will be hindered.
What could the consequences be for student mobility?
PvdW: It’s still too early to know. Withdrawal won’t be immediate, even if the EU’s member states seem to want things to move quickly. Right now we have to reassure our students. The Brexit won’t jeopardise student Erasmus exchanges planned for 2016-17.
However, the effects of the Brexit on student mobility may be felt in the coming years. Even though it’s difficult to know today what the consequences will be, the UK will have left the European Union within the next two years, meaning the end of the Erasmus programme. The programme could nevertheless be kept in place if, during the negotiations between Europe and the UK, the British choose to fund it.
But there are other important questions such as recognition of qualifications, tuition fees, entry into the country, etc. These are all summed up perfectly in an article in L’étudiant. (English version).
What are the current links between Université de Rennes 1 and the UK in terms of research and training?
PvdW: We have links with several British institutions via Erasmus agreements which allow us to organise student exchange programmes in excellent conditions.
There are around 2O Erasmus agreements with 18 different British universities. We are also linked to the University of Exeter in the framework of a long-standing agreement (1979) and a double degree, the Magistère juriste d'affaires franco-britannique.
Each year we send around 30 or so students to the UK through our Erasmus agreements and on average, 50 students from Rennes and England are in mobility in the context of the double degree with Exeter.
As for research, there are many exchanges on both sides of the Channel with 6 joint PhDs since 2012 and an international research laboratory between the Institute of Chemical Sciences in Rennes and the chemistry department at Durham University. As far as researcher-lecturers are concerned, mobility shouldn’t be overlooked. During the university year 2014-15, 15 of our colleagues went to the UK either on teaching missions or for their research activity. Over the same period, 9 British colleagues came to Rennes for teaching missions.
What could the effects of the Brexit be on scientific cooperation?
PvdW: The international research laboratory MMC Molecular Materials and Catalysis with the Durham University is the result of a bilateral agreement and won’t be effected in any way by the result of the referendum. We’ll have to see what pace of withdrawal negotiations will take. And follow discussions around the subject of UK participation, as a third party, in the programme Horizon 2020. In order to participate, the UK will have to contribute financially.
The example of the relationship between the European Union and Switzerland is an interesting one: certain actions such as the ERC grants are open to the Swiss, and others not.
No matter what, we have to keep in mind that this is the start of a slow process and that the negotiations have an important role in the effects of the Brexit on higher education and research. Our relationship with UK universities will evolve according to how the negotiations progress. We should not forget that we can always cooperate with our British friends through agreements, in the same way we do now with countries outside Europe.