Professor Stephen J Toope, Vice-Chancellor

Professor Stephen J Toope, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, has expressed fears that a continued stand-off between the UK and EU will lead to a “brain drain”.

It has taken a few years, but our concerns – about the loss of connectivity, the loss of researcher mobility, the loss of research funding – are now coming to pass.

Professor Stephen J Toope, Vice-Chancellor

In a lecture at Homerton College, Cambridge, he warned that senior academics would be tempted to take jobs abroad unless the impasse over allowing British researchers access to EU funds is broken.

Professor Toope said the failure of the UK Government and the EU to reach agreement over Horizon Europe, the prestigious EU funding mechanism, was already having an impact at Cambridge.

“It has taken a few years, but our concerns – about the loss of connectivity, the loss of researcher mobility, the loss of research funding – are now coming to pass,” he said in the annual Kate Pretty Lecture.

“Earlier this year we were celebrating Cambridge colleagues winning more European Research Council grants than peers at any other UK institution.

“Yet two weeks ago a Cambridge astrophysicist had to step down from the leadership of a pan-European project because the UK’s association with the Horizon Europe network has not been ratified.

“And we learned only last week that European funding has now dried up, too, for Cambridge’s Comparative Cognition Laboratory, raising the likelihood of its closure in July.

“Great Britain – and Cambridge in particular – have long been a magnet for some of the world’s finest minds. But for the first time there is the very real and hugely worrying prospect of a brain drain, as colleagues with large European collaborations and significant European grants talk about leaving the UK. The UK – we are frequently told – is a ‘Science Superpower’. I worry that, if we’re not careful, we may sleepwalk in the opposite direction."

Professor Toope said the UK and the EU needed to move fast to prevent inflicting serious damage on world-leading academic research.

“Hopes for the UK’s association to the Horizon Europe framework programme are fading fast. But I remain hopeful that the UK Government and our European partners will recognise how much our scientific communities need each other.

“And I remain hopeful that we can still agree on some mechanism to ensure that UK researchers can continue to contribute leadership and expertise to European collaborations."

Professor Toope said that Cambridge remained a “proudly global institution” with strong international representation among its students, staff and alumni. Cambridge academics carried out research with major impact on people’s lives on every continent and in dozens of different countries. 

Read the Vice-Chancellor's speech - University matters? The University of Cambridge in an increasingly complex world.

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