Agreed grants from Horizon 2020 to many UK research-intensive universities had dropped by more than 20 per cent by the last year of the programme, Times Higher Education analysis suggests.
The figures, based on data from the European Commission’s research programme, show that although tens of millions of euros in grants were still agreed with UK institutions in 2020, the totals appeared to have tailed off at a number of universities.
For example, of 14 large research-intensive universities that agreed Horizon grants of at least €20 million (£17 million) in 2015, 11 received a fifth less in 2020.
Data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency on research income also show a pattern of decline at many institutions.
Again, 11 major research-intensives recorded a drop of more than 10 per cent in European Union research funding from 2015-16 to 2019-20, although they were not all the same universities because of the way grant income is often spent over different years.
It follows a broader analysis of Horizon 2020 data by the campaign group Scientists for EU last month, which suggested that the UK may have lost out on £1.5 billion in funding since 2015 when comparing the figures with German institutions.
It claimed that the tailing-off could be linked to the 2016 Brexit vote and its aftermath of uncertainty about the UK’s future place in European funding programmes.
The University of Cambridge was one of three universities where EU grants agreed in 2020 were more than 40 per cent lower than five years before, although its 2015 total was the highest in the sector at €85 million and its Hesa data show a much smoother trajectory for EU research income over the period.
Peter Hedges, head of the university’s research office, said that Cambridge’s own internal figures pointed to stability on EU grants won between 2015 and 2020 and “no real evidence of a Brexit impact”.
However, he said, there had been anecdotes after the referendum that some UK research institutions were finding it more difficult to get involved in bigger collaborations, which could explain the decline elsewhere.
“It could be that at the UK level it is more of an impact on the collaborative programmes, and it could be that for less high-profile players, there has been more of a case of smaller institutions being excluded,” he said.
UK Research and Innovation said it had not analysed the Horizon data, but UK participation in major Horizon elements such as the European Research Council and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions had “remained relatively stable throughout the lifetime of the programme”.
A spokeswoman added that UKRI’s “ambition” for the new Horizon Europe programme, which the UK has agreed to associated to, was for researchers to participate “to the maximum extent”, and she said there was already “enormous interest”.