A UK outside of Europe presents a risk to development  

Published on 6 January 2021

Image of Rachel Dixon

Rachel Dixon

Partnerships and Fundraising Officer

Image of Peter Taylor

Peter Taylor

Director of Research

Image of Marjoke Oosterom

Marjoke Oosterom

Research Fellow

Image of Marina Apgar

Marina Apgar

Research Fellow

Image of Giulia Mascagni

Giulia Mascagni

IDS Research Fellow and ICTD Research Director

2020 was defined by disruption caused by Covid-19 and its global impacts as well as the departure of the UK from the European Union. Following the decision to leave in 2016 there followed many thousands of hours of negotiation between governments which ended at the very last minute with a withdrawal deal. Brexit has been delivered but leaves considerable uncertainty and anxiety over how relations between the UK and the EU will unfold in the future.

The ramifications of this outcome will be felt for years to come and will affect almost every part of the UK economy and society in unpredictable ways. Most urgent for those involved in development research and who engage in European research and teaching collaborations will be the impact on funding, partnerships, and movement of people. These impacts will each have profound effects on the ability of researchers from across Europe to live and work in the UK, and for UK researchers to be based in European countries. Students will be immediately affected by the UK leaving the Erasmus programme.

Immediate and long-lasting

The implications for collaboration and knowledge sharing between UK and European researchers will be immediate and long-lasting. And this comes at a time when it is perhaps more obvious than ever before that the most urgent development challenges, including poverty, inequality and climate change do not happen within national borders. They are complex and interconnected and require development research to focus on them as universal challenges with specific manifestations in different contexts, including those right here ‘on our doorstep’ in the UK and Europe.

For the UK, addressing such challenges and seeking to build forward differently in the future relies on recognising their European dimension and therefore the necessity for close coordination and partnership with rather than alienation of our European neighboursJoined-up efforts are needed that promote and encourage learning and evidence sharing across borders. As the global response to the pandemic has demonstrated, national and multi-lateral cooperation and collective responses are vital in making rapid headway during crisesThe long-term, negative impacts of polarisation, divisiveness and exclusion only serve to deepen the fragility and the structural inequalities that so many citizens now experience in their lives and are increasingly and loudly calling for political action around.  

Effective research collaboration and knowledge sharing is vital regardless of whether the UK is part of the European Union or just geographically part of EuropeEfforts within Europe to address accelerating issues such as migration, environmental protection, disrupted democratic processes, authoritarianism, and inequality are more successful when there is strong cooperation and deeper engagement between institutions, beyond national identities and borders.  

In response, IDS has renewed its commitment to building research and teaching connections and partnerships that encourage collaborative application of development research globally, across Europe and within the UK. We are focused on supporting colleagues to initiate, and deepen, relationships with like-minded organisations in Europe, achieving mutual benefits through joint efforts in research, teaching and policy engagement.   

Collaboration and partnerships

We already have a long history of existing collaboration with key partners such as Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam (ISS), and Wageningen University & Research. Current research projects underway include WEGO-ITN, a network looking at local community strategies to build sustainable, resilient and equitable futures, and the Displacement, Placemaking and Wellbeing in the City project which contributes to our growing understanding of the structures, dynamics and processes through which people who are enduringly displaced succeed or fail to become part of European and Indian cities. 

Other collaborations include with the Dutch knowledge programme INCLUDE supporting its policy research on youth transitions and employment. We also recently partnered with the Norwegian Chr. Michelsen Institute in a study on youth employment politics in Africa. This research has contributed to development of the aid strategies of various European governments.

Looking ahead, the ambition at IDS is to continue to counter the most intractable, universal development challenges by fostering greater research engagement and connections. Working together, we will build the knowledge that is essential to strengthen government and society and inspire lasting positive change – in the UK, Europe and globally.

For further information, please contact Peter Taylor ([email protected]) and Rachel Dixon ([email protected]) 


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