Franco-Scottish links in research, innovation and higher education

Overview of Franco-Scottish higher education and research partnerships including analysis and recommendations for furthering collaboration between France and Scotland.

3. Typology of Franco-Scottish links and case studies

The mapping exercise uncovered a wide variety of links and partnerships between French and Scottish researchers and education organisations, each with different origins, barriers, and opportunities. This section gives an overview of these different relationships, including examples and case studies for each type.

3.1 Informal individual connections

Researchers from both sides of the Channel can be involved in ad-hoc publications or work streams, outside of any dedicated project. These are perhaps the hardest to map comprehensively. They often originate informally through networking events such as conferences, but also through historical connection researchers have built throughout their careers. A typical example would be a Scottish researcher who has previously studied in France, or vice-versa, denoting the importance of staff mobility and the diasporas in both countries. These links can also originate through researchers' master degree or PhD students, who bring with them their own network of contacts, highlighting here the crucial role of student exchanges. The pandemic has dramatically reduced the opportunities for networking, as online platforms cannot replace discussions in a corridor or around a shared lunch during a conference. Brexit also complicated the movement of people, when face to face interactions are critical to foster collaboration, as researchers will be able to showcase their skills and brainstorm new ideas.

Case study: Dr Carla Barlagne, French national living in Scotland

Dr Barlagne is a researcher in agricultural and rural economics working in the Social Economic and Geographical Sciences research group at the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen. She is French and native from Guadeloupe, where she studied. She received her PhD from the University of the French West Indies and the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRAE). She took her contacts with her when she moved to Scotland and is still regularly collaborating with colleagues at INRAE. Her research investigates the generation, uptake, and development of various forms of innovation within socio-ecological system. She also explores the link between agro-biodiversity management and food chains resilience. She has supervised PhD students in collaboration with French institutions. She is currently discussing internship arrangements for a master student, and trying to understand the consequences of Brexit and the pandemic over visas and travel. Some schools in France have been pushing for "digital internships", however online delivery is unsatisfactory as an important element of those programmes it to allow students to gain practical skills and immerse themselves in another culture.

3.2 Fellowships and staff mobility

In some instances, researchers may be involved in bilateral short to medium term mobility arrangements, or visiting fellowships. This usually involves senior scientists who are invited to share their expertise with colleagues and students, but it also extends to doctoral students. Those opportunities can revolve around a specific experiment that requires specialised equipment. Once again, there is no central repository of this type of exchange.

However, a number of such fellowships are funded through the Horizon programme and can therefore be tracked precisely. These are called Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions, and take the form of grants that encourage transnational, intersectoral and interdisciplinary mobility within Europe. Grants cover individual fellowships as well as staff exchanges (training networks are also part of this scheme but are covered in another section). The mapping exercise uncovered just over 70 fellowships grants funded by Horizon 2020 involving both French and Scottish actors.

Another major source of mobility funding from the EU is the Erasmus+ programme. Indeed, whilst this scheme tends to be associated with student exchange, it also incorporates wider education and training objectives, and specific calls are dedicated to staff mobility and adult learning. Unfortunately, the Erasmus+ project database only holds details about each sending organisation but does not include receiving countries. As an indication, France received just under 5,000 foreign staff in 2018-19, and sent out 4,100. For the UK, those numbers were 4,700 incoming and 3,900 outgoing[35].

Mobility agreements and fellowships can also be supported by national funding agencies, although to a smaller extent as those schemes are often dedicated to internal projects. The different sciences academies also offer dedicated mobility support, but most schemes target developing countries as the related funds originate from Official Development Assistance. All academies will also have fellows representing them internationally. There is no central repository for this type of funding and for this reason such fellowships were not included in the mapping exercise.

  • The Royal Society: UK's independent scientific academy. International funding includes International Exchanges, Collaborations Awards (part of the Global Challenge Research Fund), Newton International Fellowships for early career researchers and Wolfson Fellowships for researchers' recruitment.
  • The British Academy: UK's national academy for the humanities and social sciences. International funding includes: Newton fund International Fellowships (for incoming scientists), mobility grants (for developing countries only) and reciprocal schemes (selected countries only).
  • The Academy of Medical Sciences: UK's independent body representing biomedical and health research. International funding: Newton fellowships, Daniel Tumberg fellowships (Middle East only), Global Challenges fund (developing countries only).
  • The Royal Society of Edinburgh: Scotland's national academy, contributing to the advancement of learning and knowledge. International funding opportunities include: International bilateral visit programmes and fellowships with the countries with which the RSE has a formal Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) – France is not one of them; John Moyes Lessells Travel scholarships for career engineers; European Visiting research grants for scholars in the arts, humanities and social sciences. The RSE also recently announced a dedicated scheme at the occasion of COP26 for international climate change networks.
  • Académie des Sciences: the French Sciences academy. Like its British counterparts, it subsidises mobility agreements and international prizes with partners across the world (and in particular developing countries but also Germany), although it currently holds no direct MoU with the UK or Scotland.

Finally, there is a dedicated scheme between France and the UK which support early career researchers' mobility, the Alliance Hubert Curien programme. This initiative is jointly funded by the UK and French governments and aims to encourage reciprocal mobility and joint collaboration between the two countries. Research groups can apply for funding which will cover travel, subsistence, and other joint costs over a two-year period. The scheme is managed in France by Campus France and in the UK by the British Council. This is the only bi-lateral funding scheme between France and the UK that could be identified. In 2020, there were 3 recipients in Scotland.

Case study: Dr Fabien Massabuau, Hubert Curien programme recipient

Dr Massabuau is a physicist, working on wide bandgap semi-conductors for applications in UV sensors. He is based at the University of Strathclyde since September 2019, after spending several years in Cambridge where he obtained his PhD. He obtained his initial degree from the Ecole Centrale de Lyon. He is one of the recipients of the 2020 Alliance Hubert Curien Programme. Whilst the funding remains relatively modest as it only covers travel and subsistence costs, it will allow Dr Massabuau to travel to France and access specific equipment and expertise. The French team is also due to visit Scotland. The small award size means the application process is easy, which makes this type of funding highly beneficial to set up new long-term collaborations. Indeed, the larger cooperation programmes such as Horizon require significant investment and preparation. Mobility schemes however enable actors to test and demonstrate the value of their partnerships, which in turn will inform applications to larger grants. The main obstacle remains making sure such opportunities for mobility funding are visible and communicated upon, as their small size also means they can be difficult to find. This includes online platforms, but ambassadors and their networking activities also play a large role.

3.3 Research projects with public partners

This is the form most relations between France and Scotland take. The range of project is very wide, from multi-million pounds partnerships involving dozens of partners to smaller collaborations between two organisations. These projects are primarily driven by EU funding calls, which are dedicated to collaborative projects, and in particular the Horizon programme. France is the second country (behind Germany) in terms of number of collaborations with Scottish researchers under the Horizon 2020 programme (2014-20), denoting the importance of this country in terms of international cooperation. The UK is also a key partner in collaboration with French organisation, although it is behind Germany, Spain and Italy (Figure 7).

Figure 7: Number of collaborations with other countries within Horizon 2020 program [36]
Bar charts showing the number of collaborations with other countries within the Horizon 2020 programme for France and Scotland

National grants can also include international partners, although to a smaller extent. The biggest of those funding calls for the UK is the Global Challenges Research Fund, which is part of the UK's official development assistance and addresses the United Nation sustainable development goals. It aims to maximise the impact of research and innovation to improve lives and opportunities in the developing world (not including France). In Scotland, the fund is delivered by the Scottish Funding Council. The other oversea programme in the UK is the Fund for International Collaboration, which involves 20 partner countries (not including France).[37] More generally, the funding calls of the different UKRI agencies can include international partners. 26 of such projects were identified through the mapping exercise.

Case study: Extreme-scale precision imaging in radio astronomy (EIRA)

This project led by Heriot-Watt University seeks to develop new algorithms to improve imaging techniques in astronomy, with secondary applications in medical imaging including magnetic resonance and ultrasounds. The Scottish team collaborates with Centrale Supelec in France. The project is funded by UKRI and the Space council.

In France, the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR) also supports international collaboration within their main grant scheme (appel à projet générique). This is however only available for partner countries and does not include the UK (although Germany is). These bilateral agreements mean that evaluation of submissions is done by only one agency but funded by both parties. Most are open to all disciplines, but there are also dedicated agreements focusing on strategic themes such as energy or resistance to antibiotics. Like with the UKRI calls, the ANR grants can also include international partners, and 9 projects with Scottish organisations were identified. In addition to the bilateral agreements, the ANR also takes part in multilateral grant calls at the European level such as the ERA-NET Co-fund and the European Joint Programme Co-fund[38]. Under those schemes, several agencies within Europe, including ANR, will pool resources to fund projects in specific areas, and grants will be accessible to Scottish researchers – see case study box.

Case study: OCEANERA-NET Co-fund

This co-fund is coordinated by Scottish Enterprise, and benefits from support under the Horizon ERA-NET scheme. Due to last from 2017 to 2022, this programme aims at coordinating the effort of 8 national and regional agencies from 6 European countries in the ocean energy area. The participants are: the Basque Country (Spain) and Spain, Brittany and Pays de la Loire (France), Ireland, Portugal, Scotland and Sweden. The co-fund total budget is just over m€9, of which m€3 of EU contribution under Horizon 2020.

The initiative supports collaborative research and development and encourages innovative projects towards commercialisation. Its key objectives are to maintain and grow Europe's world leading position in ocean energy, to help bring innovative low carbon energy solutions closer to commercial deployment, drive down the cost of energy, create growth and jobs and reduce the environmental impact of the energy system. In addition to the joint call for project, the co-fund also supports joint activities to support knowledge transfer and exploitation of results. Its objectives are aligned with the strategic roadmap of the Ocean Energy Forum, a non-profit that represents the interest of Europe's ocean energy and acts as a network of professionals in the sector (industrials but also research institutes).

Several ocean energy demonstration projects have already been supported by the co-fund, including a tidal turbine in Brittany, a floating module in Scotland and innovative thermal exchangers developed in Nantes. Those projects do not necessarily involve direct collaboration between France and Scotland, but others do. For example, the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) based in Orkney obtained a grant from the co-fund to create an integrated marine data toolbox with the help of several companies and research institutes in France as well as the University of Edinburgh. This project received just over m€1 from the co-fund.

The origins of Franco-Scottish research projects links can be varied, although most of them can be traced back to networking and conference meetings. Many stakeholders involved in the interviews highlighted the serendipitous nature of such connections. Networking is an integral part of research, and it does not stop within the boundaries of academia. Friends and colleagues alike can be a source of information and new contacts and will span decades going all the way back to the individual's old professors and classmates.

Case study: ATLAS and iAtlantic

These two projects are funded by H2020 and coordinated by the University of Edinburgh by the team of Pr. Murray Roberts. ATLAS started in 2016 and received just over m€9 of funding. It brought together 25 participants across Europe, including Marine Scotland and the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) as well as the Institut Français de Recherche pour l'Exploitation de la Mer (IFREMER). Its objective was to improve understanding of deep-sea ecosystems and develop a knowledge base that can inform the development of international policies to ensure Atlantic resources are managed effectively. When the project was wrapped up in 2020, with a final presentation to the European Commission, it had led to over 100 peer-reviewed publications (including in prestigious journals like Nature), 45 research expeditions, 23 workshops, and multiple coverage in media.

ATLAS was followed by a second H2020 project called iAtlantic, which started in June 2019 and will last until May 2023. It includes over 30 partners across the Atlantic, including Brazil, South Africa the US and Canada, as well as CNRS teams and the Sorbonne University in France and Heriot-Watt University in Scotland. Like its predecessor, its objective is to assess the health of deep and open-ocean ecosystems, the effects of global climate change and their implications for society, economy and planetary health. In addition to expeditions, iAtlantic seeks to build human and technical capacities through a teaching and mentoring programme. This is a particularly important element, especially for early career researchers such as Dr. Georgios Kazanidis, who elaborated on these benefits during his interview. Not only did his participation in the collaboration expand his network (in academia, business and policy), it also allowed him to access expertise, improve his knowledge and technical competences as well as transferable skills such as communication.

Both ATLAS and iAtlantic projects belong to the All-Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance which brings together science and diplomacy to enhance marine research and innovation cooperation from Arctic to Antarctica. This alignment is supported politically by several arrangements between countries across both sides of the Atlantic, including the Galway Statement on Atlantic Ocean Cooperation signed in 2013 between the EU, the USA and Canada; and the Belem Statement on Atlantic Research and Innovation Cooperation of 2017 between the EU, South Africa and Brazil. I should be noted that the UK's, and therefore Scotland's, participation to those schemes remains to be confirmed after Brexit.

Case study: the Human Brain Project

The Human Brain project is one of the three Future and Emerging Technology Flagship initiatives of the Horizon 2020 programme. This 10-years initiative is one of the biggest research collaborations in the world and benefited from b€1 funding from the EU. It involves more than 500 researchers across 140 organisations in Europe. Its objective is to map and explore the human brain and its complexity, and build a research infrastructure to advance neuroscience, medicine, computing and brain-inspired technologies. The project is coordinated by Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, and includes many French actors such as the CNRS, the CEA, Ecole Normal Supérieure, the Pasteur Institute, Université d'Aix Marseille etc. In Scotland, partners include the universities of Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow, who received nearly m€3.5 across the past 3 funding calls to support brain research.

3.4 Knowledge exchange projects with private actors

These types of project also make up a large proportion of collaborations between France and Scotland. They involve public institutions as well as businesses and other private interest groups and tend to be supported by funding schemes dedicated to competitivity and innovation, such as Interreg. There are also several sub-funds within Horizon which specifically support public-private partnerships. It should be noted that the distinction between knowledge exchange and research projects is relatively fuzzy, as many public submissions nowadays tend to include at least one business partner, even if they only receive a small contribution. Indeed, commercial applications and "real-world" impact are increasingly important to research funders.

Case study: Joint Initiative for Hydrogen Vehicles across Europe (JIVE)

This project supports the implementation of the commitment set by the EU Directive on Alternative Fuels Infrastructure 2014, which required member states to develop policy and infrastructure for electric, gas and hydrogen transport. The framework includes a declaration of intent, several H2020 projects, and a deployment platform bringing together public transport organisations, manufacturers and finance organisations. Along Aberdeen and Dundee councils for Scotland, several French authorities are involved: Ile de France, Pau, Auxerre, Dijon, Montpellier, Toulouse…

The first JIVE project began in January 2017 and had for objective to upscale the deployment of hydrogen fuel cell buses. The next iteration, JIVE2, has received a m€25 contribution from H2020 for a total budget of over m€110. It will see the deployment of over 150 buses in 14 cities across seven countries. Some regions already have experience of the technology such as Cologne, which supports others like Auxerre to demonstrate the benefits of hydrogen buses. In addition to the deployment of buses, the project also includes a comprehensive data monitoring and assessment exercise to inform next steps for the sector, and a high-impact dissemination campaign with international conferences.

Scotland has been particularly successful with public-private collaboration funds in particular in the area of renewable energies (ocean energy, hydrogen etc). The future of these projects remains uncertain however, as the UK is yet to confirm whether it will continue to participate in the main innovation schemes following Brexit. Like with the public research sectors, EU funding is behind most of the collaborations, as national innovation and economic development funds tend to be even more centred on internal activities. Funding foreign companies to foster local jobs and growth may seem counter intuitive, however there is growing evidence supporting the value of global collaboration for competitive advantage[39]. Real competition is not the neighbour, it is on a global scale, which means there is potential for "co-optition", or cooperation for competition. Shared governance and arrangements such as Interreg are working on this basis, and bring together businesses, policy makers and researchers to tackle global challenges.

Case study: Integrating Tidal energy into the European Grid (ITEG)

This 5-years project started in 2017 and is supported by Interreg North-West Europe. It is led by EMEC in Orkney and involves Scottish company Orbital Marine Power as well as two universities in Normandy, the local economic development agency (Agence de Developpement pour la Normandie) and Areva H2Gen, a French company specialised in water electrolysis (a technology required for the production of green hydrogen). Other partners include Belgium and the Netherlands. The project has a budget of m€11.8 and received m€6.5 of EU funding.

Its objective is to develop and validate an integrated tidal energy and hydrogen production and storage solution in Orkney. This type of technology addresses the issue of carbon emissions as well as grid export limitation which can be faced in remote communities. It brings together a low-cost tidal turbine with a custom-build electrolyser for hydrogen production, coordinated by an onshore energy management system. This integrated solution means that electricity can be either sent to the national grid or stored as hydrogen depending on the level of demand.

3.5 Research infrastructure and training

A number of H2020 project are dedicated to the development of research infrastructures that are accessible to all researchers in Europe. These facilities provide resources and services for research communities to conduct research and foster innovation. They can also be used beyond academia for education or public services. Infrastructures include scientific equipment or sets of instruments, but also collections and archives of scientific data, computing systems and communication networks. The development of EU research infrastructures is overseen by ESFRI, the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures.

Case study: Environmental research infrastructures building FAIR services for research, innovation and society (ENVRI-FAIR)

This project, funded by Horizon, seeks to connect existing environmental research infrastructures. Understanding the earth needs an interdisciplinary approach based on harmonised and easy-to-use data and services. The overarching goal is to improve those digital assets and connect them to the emerging European Open Science Cloud. The project has an overall budget of m€19 and is coordinated by the Forschungszentrum Jülich, an interdisciplinary research centre based in Germany and one of the largest of its kind in Europe.

ENVRI-FAIR brings together 13 environmental research infrastructures that each observe elements of life, air, land and water. These were initially established to serve a specific science community and focused a certain aspect of phenomena on Earth. However, the interlinked nature of our plant requires coordination to transcend disciplinary boundaries and achieve a holistic understanding of the environment. The project therefore brings together 37 partners from 13 EU countries. This includes the University of Stirling in Scotland, and in France the CNRS, IFREMER, INRAE, the BRGM and the Université de Versailles. Other UK institutions involved: UKRI, the National Oceanography Centre and the Plymouth Marine Laboratory.

In addition to access to equipment and services, a number of H2020 infrastructure projects also provide dedicated training for researchers, technical staff and industry stakeholders. This can include training courses as well as dedicated fellowships and PhD programmes.

Case study: Aquaculture infrastructures for excellence in European fish research (AQUAEXCEL)

This Horizon research infrastructure project aims to support the sustainable growth of the aquaculture sector in Europe. It has been running since 2011, and over the years it has received nearly m€30 of European funding, with the most recent programme launched in November 2020 and due to end in October 2025. The project is coordinated by INRAE (with IFREMER as the other key French partner). It integrates 40 European aquaculture research facilities, covering all scientific fields from genetics to technology through immunology, physiology and nutrition. The Institute of Aquaculture of the University of Stirling will receive over €600,000 as part of the latest call.

The latest iteration seeks to extend its field to shellfish, algae and recyclers (insects, marine works). It also incorporates industry through collaboration with the European Aquaculture Technology and Innovation Platform. The project subsidies access to its facilities through regular calls for transnational access. In addition, it provides networking activities and services such as a virtual laboratory that allows to run experimental protocols online. Aquaexcel also incorporates a comprehensive free training programme which aims to educate researchers as well as industry stakeholders on the latest topics through face-to-face but also distance learning.

3.6 Networks and consortiums

Consortiums are groups of organisations that seek to pool resources and knowledge to tackle a specific issue. There is a wide variety of research and education networks in Europe and across the world which will include both Scottish and French members. These can be supported through the diverse European programmes but can also rely on their members for funding or on national grants.

Case study: One Ocean Hub

This is an independent programme for collaborative research for development funded by UKRI through the Global Challenges Research Fund from 2019 to 2024 (total budget m£18, delivered by the Natural Environment Research Council). It is a community of scholars from 22 international universities and research centres, working together with over 30 partners across the globe including UN agencies, national and regional governments, charities and media organisations. The Hub is led and hosted by the University of Strathclyde. The other Scottish actors are the University of Edinburgh, Heriot Watt University, SAMS and the Glasgow School of Arts; in France, the main research centre involved is INSERM, and UNESCO is also involved as a partner.

The mission of the One Ocean Hub is drive integrated ocean governance for equitable and inclusive sustainability. It will specifically address the challenges and opportunities of South Africa, Namibia, Ghana, Fiji and Solomon Islands, through collaborative, transdisciplinary research that bridges current disconnections in law, science and policy to balance multiple ocean uses with conservation.

Once of the major source of funding for research network is COST, the European Cooperation in Science and Technology. Founded in 1971, this is the EU's longest running European framework for research collaboration. Its mission is to networking opportunities for researchers and innovators in order to strengthen Europe's capacity to address scientific, technological and societal challenges. COST received funding under the various research and innovation framework programmes such as Horizon. Its main instrument is the creation of research networks called COST Actions. These offer an open space for collaboration amongst scientists across Europe and beyond. The actions are bottom-up, meaning researchers can create a network based on their own interests and ideas, and multi-stakeholders, often involving the private sector, policy makers as well as civil society. In 2019, the UK led 223 COST Actions, and involved organisations received a total of m€1.7. Scotland participated in 278 actions The UK is amongst the highest in terms of total number of individual participations in all action activities, with 100% of representation across the years. In comparison, France led 138 projects only in 2019, for a total budget of m€1.1[40].

Case study: Dynamics of Placemaking

This COST action started in November 2019 (until November 2023) and is co-chaired by Dr Zsuzsanna Varga from the University of Glasgow. The French partner is Pr. Gilles Gesquière from Université de Lyon. Placemaking is a concept referring to the practices and strategies undertaken by locals (urban citizens, governments, and other interested actors) to invest in places with specific cultural characteristics. This can involve urban planning and urbanism, but also social practices include online communities, applications and other digital tools. This action seeks to document and analyse how placemaking activities re-imagine and reinvent public space and improve citizens' involvement in urban planning. It also aims to explore the role and potential of digital tools to record, transform, produce and disseminate a citizens' knowledge about the urban spaces throughout Europe's cities.

Research consortium have recently become particularly important to tackle global challenges such as climate change but also the more recent Covid pandemic. Indeed, the coordination of research around prevention and treatment of the most serious health threat of this century. France and Scotland have been involved in the fight against the disease, including through European and international collaboration frameworks and networks.

Case study: Corona Accelerated R&D in Europe (CARE)

CARE is the largest European research initiative addressing Covid. It is a coalition of research institutions and pharmaceutical companies, with partners from the USA and China. The project has received funding from Horizon 2020, the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Association, the Bill and Melinda Gate Foundation, the Global Health Drug Discovery Institute and the University of Dundee. Dundee is contributing m€5 which were awarded to its drug discovery unit by the Covid-19 Therapeutics Accelerator. CARE's overall budget is m€77 over 5 years, with an EU contribution amounting m€36 and the other m€39 funded by partners. The project is coordinated by INSERM, with the assistance of two pharmaceutical companies.

The consortium addresses two key goals: the development of therapeutics for emergency response, and long-term strategies to discover treatments for future outbreaks. Amongst the 37 partners, there are 2 Scottish actors (the Drug Discovery Unit of the University of Dundee and the University of Edinburgh), which are the only UK-based academic members of the consortium, and 3 French partners (INSERM, CEA and the Institut de Recherche Internationales Servier). Exscientia, a University of Dundee spin-out company now based in Oxford leading in AI-driven drug discovery and design is also a member of CARE.

3.7 Student exchanges and dual degrees

This type of relations was not initially the core focus of this report; however they rose to the fore in January 2021 as the UK announced it would not take part in Erasmus+, the EU's programme to support education, training, youth and sport in Europe. It benefited from a total budget of b€14.7 between 2014 and 2020, and the new 7-years scheme will receive nearly twice this amount. The programme offers mobility and cooperation opportunities for higher education but also adult learning, vocational training and schools including early childhood care. This includes grants supporting individuals to go learn abroad, but also strategic partnerships supporting the development of innovative practices and cooperation.

Case study: Erasmus Mundus Master Degrees

Erasmus Mundus joint master degrees are international study programmes delivered by a consortium of HEIs and funded Erasmus+. Study must take place in at least two of the programme countries, across a minimum of 12 months to a maximum of 24 months. The successful completion of the programme leads to the award of a joint degree or multiple degrees awarded by HEIs of the consortium. The UK will still be able to participate in this scheme despite its withdrawal from Erasmus+.

In Scotland, the University of Glasgow has been particularly active in setting up such arrangements, with 9 active programmes in 2021, one of which involves a French partner, the University of Aix-Marseille. The international master in South European Studies, EUROSUD, is coordinated by Glasgow and involves partners in France, Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy. The programme runs over 2 years and aims to examine Southern Europe as a distinct region, around themes such as democracy and protest, migration, social and economic change, nationalism and trade.

The other Erasmus Mundus programme involving both French and Scottish partners is ACES, a joint degree in Aquaculture, Environment and Society. It is coordinated by the University of Crete, alongside the University of the Highlands and Islands, the University of Nantes and Radboud University in the Netherlands. The programme lasts for 2 years and focuses on practical and theoretical skills, including internships with businesses, to address the major scientific, technological and social obstacles facing the sustainable development of the global aquaculture industry.

In the UK, Erasmus+ supported nearly 55,000 participants in 2019 for a total funding amount of m€144. Over half of this goes to higher education, and a quarter to vocational training. France is the number two receiving country for UK students and staff, behind Spain but above Germany. Two Scottish HEIs (the universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh) are in the top 3 institutions, showing the important of the scheme for Scotland. In the same year, France sent over 100,000 participants abroad, with the UK being the second most popular destination, behind Spain[41].

Case study: Erasmus+ student exchanges

The Erasmus+ student exchange programme is open to universities as well as other Higher Education institutions. Organisations must sign and implement a common quality framework, the Erasmus Charter for Higher Education. In Scotland, there were 32 institutions accredited in 2020, including all the Universities but also colleges across the country. HEIs can have anywhere between 1 to over 30 agreements in place with French counterparts.

In 2019, France was the third most important destination for outgoing students with 385 students from Scottish universities studying in France. This figure captures all means of studying abroad, including Erasmus+. Looking exclusively at Erasmus+, French students were the first biggest cohort coming into Scotland through the scheme. In 2019/20, 595 French students came to Scotland under Erasmus+.

One of the major benefits of the Eramsus+ programme is the economies of scale brought by the common framework. HEIs are working under a shared charter and can access a unique infrastructure which makes applications and handling of students and staff grants extremely easy. In addition to this integrated logistical support, Eramsus+ also provides opportunities for strategic partnerships and cooperation through initiatives such as Centres for Vocational Excellence, Teachers Academies or European Universities. The programme support policy and curriculum development via schemes such as Jean Monnet Actions (financial support to offer new content on European studies) or the European Youth Together actions (promoting young people's participation in European public life).

Case study: Erasmus+ European Universities

This initiative aims to strengthen strategic partnerships between HEIs across the EU. It is one of the flagship initiatives to build a European Education Area. European Universities are transnational alliances that promote European values and identity and seek to revolutionise the quality and competitiveness of higher education in Europe. Together, European Universities will bring together a new generation of creative Europeans able to cooperate across languages, borders, and disciplines to address societal challenges and skills shortages in Europe.

The University of Glasgow was one of the two successful Scottish applicants of the 2019 call with the creation of CIVIS, the European Civic University, which also involves the University of Aix-Marseille in France. The University of Edinburgh joined the UNA Europa alliance with another 7 universities including Université Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne. The European Universities alliances will receive EU funding (m€5 per organisation for a 3-year period) to support their engagements towards increased mobility of staff and students, pooled expertise and resources for joint curricula and economic development of their respective regions. However, UK institutions will not be able to renew their participation under the next Erasmus+ funding call.

Participation of Scottish and UK institutions in the Erasmus+ programme will be extended after the announcement of the country's withdrawal, as already approved schemes and funding will continue to be honoured, including those beyond 2020 and the end of the transition period. It is also possible that the UK will be able to participate to some of the schemes as a third-party country. In December 2020, the UK Government announced the creation of a new m£100 programme, the Turing scheme, aimed at providing support for around 35,000 students towards placements and exchanges overseas[42]. However, this initiative will only fund outgoing students, and this lack of reciprocity has been heavily criticised by EU actors.

European HEIs will need to arrange bi-lateral agreements with UK organisations and provide funding for their students to come to study in Scotland. This may prove difficult especially for smaller institutions with limited resources, as universities will need to prioritise the development of bi-lateral agreements with those HEI's where they have the most outgoing students. Funding will also be difficult to justify given the small number of students involved for each destination. Finally, the Turing scheme only support higher education students, whilst the Erasmus+ programme encompasses teachers, researchers, schools, and adult learners.

The withdrawal from the UK also means that new regulations remove any distinctions between EU students and any other international students. EU law required HEIs to provide spaces for incoming students under the same tuition structure as their national students. In Scotland, this meant that EU nationals benefited from free tuition, like Scottish students. With this change, EU students will now be required to pay international fees, which are not enforced by the government and are set by each university[43]. Some HEIs have already set out dedicated scholarship programmes, however the lack of funds means these opportunities will move to a merit-based system rather than encompass all students.

In addition, Brexit will increase the administrative burden for new visiting students who now require a visa to come study in the UK for more than 6 months and will be required to pay visa fees as well as a healthcare surcharge. Moreover, visiting students will not be eligible to benefits anymore unless they obtained settled status. This includes tuition support and scholarships which are handled in Scotland by the Student Awards Agency Scotland.

Note that aside the Erasmus+ scheme, there are government programmes in Scotland (Saltire Scholarships) and the UK (GREAT Scholarships, Chevening Awards, Commonwealth Scholarships) that offer support for international students. However French nationals are not eligible for these, as they tend to focus on non-EU territories.

3.8 Institutional links and agreements

This type of link is related to strategic partnerships signed at the highest level between governments or their agencies. There is very little evidence of such agreements between France and Scotland, although with Brexit it is likely that this type of collaboration will increase. The most significant example was the signature of an Education Statement of Intent between the French minister of national education and the Scottish cabinet secretary for education and lifelong learning in 2013. This document affirms both countries joint vision for educational co-operation, including the mobility of learners and teachers, although this was limited to school education. The statement was refreshed in 2018, and work is underway to update it this year. At the time of writing, no institutional agreement between the research agencies in France (ANR but also the different research institutes) and Scotland (SFC) had been identified.

Case study: CNRS International Research Laboratories

These prestigious laboratories have long-term partnerships with the CNRS and foreign research institutions. There are two in the UK. The first is the Maison Francaise d'Oxford, which was founded at the end of the Second World War on the joint initiative of the Universities of Paris and Oxford. It is operated jointly by the CNRS and the French Ministry of European and Foreign Affairs and is part of a network of research institutes established abroad (UMIFRE, Unites Mixtes des Instituts Français de Recherche à l'Etranger). It acts as a hub of Franco-British academic collaborations, first and foremost with the University of Oxford. It hosts a team of French scientists from the Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences of the CNRS who lead an interdisciplinary programmes, conferences and seminars. It is also home to junior researchers and research students.

The second is the Abraham de Moivre laboratory, located within Imperial College London. This joint research institute was created in 2018 and specialised in mathematics. It seeks to serve as a hub for collaborations between the French and UK mathematics communities. It includes a fellowship programme that support extended stays of French academics at the Imperial and supports visits of UK researchers in French labs as well as joint networks, workshops and conferences.



Back to top