The prospect of Brexit, the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union, has loomed long and large over researchers, but the effects on funding, so far, have been speculative. Now, a European funding agency has made a pre-emptive strike in advance of Brexit, changing a policy that directly impacts grants in the United Kingdom. The European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST) Association, in Brussels, is requiring that U.K. grant holders shift financial administration to a partner in Europe by 1 May.
COST says the change will prevent disruption if Brexit occurs without a deal to smooth the transition, and that it does not affect participation by U.K. scientists. But U.K. grant holders say the policy change is premature, disruptive to research—and in at least one case it has led to a staff layoff. “The bureaucratic nightmare of moving these grants is pretty horrendous,” says Nic Walton, an astronomer at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.
COST hands out about €33 million per year in grants designed to stimulate and expand research networks. The 4-year grants, each about €500,000, typically include dozens of partners in Europe and elsewhere. The funding covers travel to workshops, training, and other outreach and networking events. Often, the events lead to larger collaborative research proposals, says Stefan Bouzarovski, a geographer at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, who chairs a network on improving access to household energy with more than 200 members in 40 countries.