Funding Welsh postgraduate research despite Brexit

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Since the Brexit vote on 23 June 2016, many in the Higher Education sector have been concerned about the potential loss of vital European funds to support and bolster international research projects. The Sêr Cymru II scheme established by the Welsh Government, the European Union and the Welsh Higher Education sector, will go some way to appease these concerns.

Research activity at universities helps students widen their horizons and can encourage them to ‘think outside of the box’. Delving deeper into a subject can only benefit society, as important discoveries might be made that can lead to improvements – especially in medical treatment, lifestyle and technology.

What is Sêr Cymru II

The £56 million scheme aims to bring more researchers to Welsh universities, to help ensure that Wales does not lag behind the rest of the UK, or indeed Europe and the rest of the world, in achieving breakthroughs and innovations. It will be supported by Horizon 2020 – the largest ever EU Research and Innovation programme with nearly €80 billion of funding available between 2014 to 2020 – alongside EU Structural Funds.

There are four possible entry points into the Sêr Cymru II scheme:

  • The Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions COFUND fellowships, which provide research funding to more than 90 researchers from outside of the United Kingdom. To be eligible, an applicant must be three to five years post-PhD and must not have spent more than 12 months over the last three years in the UK. This is an exciting opportunity for non-British citizens to come and study in Wales, which may become more complicated in the future with the uncertainty of Brexit hanging over us.
  • The Research Chairs and Rising Star fellowships, which currently provide five-year awards to those who are ‘the best in the business’ and really shine when it comes to academic research. To be eligible for this funding, an applicant must be at least seven years post-PhD and have significant experience of “in the field” research. This opportunity is perfect for those who wish to continue their research but worry about the potential costs and the availability of funds.
  • The ‘Welsh’ Fellowships, which despite their name are available to anyone in the world who is three to five years post-PhD. The fellowships provide 30 people with the opportunity to continue their research within Wales, fully funded for three years.
  • The Recapturing Research Talent fellowships, which have been set up by the Welsh Government to encourage those who may have had a break to get back into research. There are 12 fellowships available for applicants with three years’ post-PhD experience and who have spent around two years outside of academia.

Is there a snag?

The Welsh Government has only agreed to pay half of the funding for specific research to be undertaken by a post-doc, the other half must come from the host university which the researcher will be attending. Although universities have often had to part fund or fund shortfalls in research projects in the past, this may be more difficult in the future given the general reduction in funding overall and negative impact Brexit may have on course take-up and demand. However, this may just be the catalyst Welsh universities need to entice gifted international researchers to relocate to and perhaps stay in Wales.

How we can help

Capital Law regularly provide advice to the Higher Education sector on a range of funding issues. If you’d like to find out more, please contact Trish D’Souza at t.dsouza@capitallaw.co.uk.