The relationship between Maastricht University and the University of York isn’t entirely new. The universities are partners in the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN) and officially decided to work more closely together in October 2017. Researchers have travelled back and forth over the past year, resulting in five “themes” or areas in which the universities are joining forces: imaging, the future of Europe, agrifood/health, globalisation and data science.
The Acting Vice Chancellor and President of York, Professor Saul Tendler, came to Maastricht late last week. Much like his colleagues at other British universities, he fears the consequences of Brexit, especially a hard Brexit: no more access to EU research funding, such as the Horizon 2020 programme, which is ending soon; no more exchange opportunities within the EU for students and staff. The University of York currently gets about 15 per cent – over 11 million euros – of its annual research funding from Brussels, and three hundred of its students are enrolled in universities elsewhere in Europe.
“This deal with a world-class university is very special for us. It will prevent us from darkness”, explains Tendler. “The big issue for us at the moment is the uncertainty. We could be leaving the European Union on the 28th of March. Or not. It’s not clear what will happen with our relationships with Europe and the rest of the world. Our collaboration with UM creates certainty and clarity. This enables us to define our own destiny.”
With this alliance, Maastricht and York hope to pre-emptively alleviate the negative consequences of the UK’s announced exit from the EU. To York, the deal with UM guarantees that student and staff mobility will remain possible in some way and that, through Maastricht, EU research funding won’t become completely inaccessible. UM, for its part, will be able to benefit from British research funding.
UM President Martin Paul is increasingly annoyed by the British politicians “who are unable to reach a good arrangement with the EU. If there’s anything that works well, it’s cooperation in education and research. This might be thrown over the wall. And even if a Brexit deal is reached, I’m worried that research collaboration won’t be the highest priority. So this is us taking our responsibility, outside of politics. I expect our initiative may also be interesting to other universities in the EU and the UK.”
The dust kicked up by Brexit is expected to settle in three years’ time. The investment that has now been announced by UM and York is intended to cover this period. Paul expects the collaboration will continue from there, citing potential joint degree programmes and joint degrees.
So why York? “We have a lot in common and have slowly grown close to each other in a very organic way”, explains Paul. Both are young universities of similar size and outlook, with close local ties and good reputations. Or, as Tendler puts it: “We’re both excellent in research and education. It’s important not to be shy about that.” And, not unimportant: “We just click, at the administrative level as well”, says Paul.
One last question: how will Brexit play out? Tendler: “We hope there won’t be any Brexit, or just the softest possible Brexit, like the Norwegian model. But I don’t know. Everything is uncertain.”