The future of the research and innovation sector in Wales, including over 240 highly skilled jobs at Swansea University alone, in vital areas from clean energy to medical research, is at risk in the next few weeks, unless the UK Government acts now to replace EU funding, the head of Swansea University has warned.
Describing the situation as “the precipice of disaster” for Swansea, Wales and the wider UK, Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Boyle urged the UK government to act urgently and provide a safety net, in the form of immediate bridging funding.
This year, following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, the UK’s access to many large-scale European Union funding programmes comes to an end.
Around 60 large-scale, multi-partner research projects in Wales are at risk. At Swansea University, this includes:
• clean energy pioneers SPECIFIC, who recently won a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Innovation;
• life sciences network CALIN,which researches areas such as new treatments for diseases;
• the ASTUTE Centre of Excellence, which collaborates with the manufacturing industry to boost productivity and growth by applying advanced engineering technologies.
Over the past decade, Swansea University has attracted significant levels of EU investment, for research and innovation at scale and to support major developments such as the £450 million Bay Campus,
By 2025, the UK Government has pledged to award £2.6 billion of replacement funding through its UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), which will be administered by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, led by Michael Gove.
However, the mechanism for distributing these funds locally makes securing funding for large-scale collaboration at cross-regional and pan-Wales scale almost impossible. There is no replacement funding of a nature that will support the collaborative approach to research and innovation which has previously enabled Wales to punch well above its weight in terms of research impact.
Universities UK, which represents universities across the country, recently warned that jobs, talent and knowledge will be lost across the UK, particularly in those regions prioritized by UK Government within the Levelling Up agenda, if there is no urgent bridging funding.
Professor Paul Boyle, Vice-Chancellor of Swansea University, said:
“We are on the precipice of a disaster for research and innovation in Wales, which only the UK Government can now prevent.
Weeks from now, we will begin to see EU funding cease for many major research projects, which will impact jobs, talent, and local innovation and skills capability. And while this is a UK-wide issue, the impact on Swansea and Wales will be especially severe.
We are very concerned for the many colleagues whose posts are at risk. More broadly, the closure of these projects will seriously and irreparably damage Wales’ research and innovation sector, which has previously punched well above its weight due to our collaborative, cross-regional and pan-Wales approach.
Many of the projects at risk also provide high-quality skills training to Welsh business. They encourage growth in local employment and productivity, which is all the more vital in areas of economic disadvantage within the Welsh regions. Perversely, they include pioneering work in areas of innovation which the UK Government has rightly identified as top priority, such as digital transformation and the push for Net Zero.
The cliff edge is looming for all this vital work. Now is the time for UK Government to help the sector step back.”