UK Universities Cut Off From £80 Billion EU Science Fund: Expert

UK Universities Cut Off From £80 Billion EU Science Fund: Expert
Liz Truss speaks to scientists during a campaign visit to a life sciences laboratory at Alderley Park in Manchester, on Aug. 10, 2022. (PA)
Chris Summers
British universities and businesses will lose out unless the government can fix a row with the European Union over the £80 billion Horizon Europe academic funding programme, according to Stepan Stepanenko, a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society.

He said the government had "shot themselves in the foot" by rejecting the Northern Ireland Protocol, antagonising the E.U. and jeopardising Britain's role in Horizon Europe.

Horizon Europe on its website writes that it is "the E.U.’s key funding programme for research and innovation."

The fund "tackles climate change, helps to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and boosts the E.U.’s competitiveness and growth.

"The programme facilitates collaboration and strengthens the impact of research and innovation in developing, supporting and implementing EU policies while tackling global challenges," it adds.

Earlier this week the British government wrote to the European Commission to end "persistant delays" which were hampering Britain's access to Horizon Europe, which gives multi-million dollar grants to scientific research projects.

Under Horizon Europe, an application for funding is made by the Principal Investigator, or PI, an academic who develops an idea for scientific research.

The PI might apply in association with a minor academic institution, like the University of Tartu in Estonia, but can switch to a more prestigious partner, like Oxford, Cambridge, University College London or Imperial College London, which are among the highest-ranking universities in Europe.

The government has said it wants to be a "science superpower" and wants the amount spent on research and development for science and technology to be 2.4 percent of UK GDP by 2027.

But earlier this month, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee published a report which said the 2.4 percent target was "ambitious" and described the government's international science policy as “somewhat incoherent.”

British Universities Being 'Frozen Out'

Chris Pearce, vice-principal for research at the University of Glasgow, told the committee: Horizon Europe “is one of the most successful, internationally collaborative research funding frameworks out there, and we are essentially being frozen out of it at the moment. Every university will give you examples of projects that are in limbo. We are not being included in new projects because we are seen as a risk."
In June the European Research Council said it was terminating 115 grants to UK-based researchers, 19 of whom had agreed to relocate to E.U. countries to keep their funding.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the E.U. was “in clear breach of our agreement, repeatedly seeking to politicise vital scientific co-operation by refusing to finalise access to these important programmes.”

Amid the post-Brexit acrimony, the E.U. has launched legal action against Britain for failing to comply with the Northern Ireland Protocol, which was negotiated as part of Brexit but was later rejected by Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government. New legislation is being pushed through Parliament by Truss, which critics say will create a trade war with Europe.
Professor James Wilsdon, from Sheffield University, told the BBC he believed there would be no resolution of the dispute over Horizon Europe and the government would plump for Plan B, its own scientific funding programme.

Stepanenko said the so-called Plan B was missing the point: "It's not just the money it generates. It's the ability to co-operate with European universities and attract people to Britain."

He said Horizon Europe effectively works as a "brain drain" in Britain's direction and that was unlikely to be maintained by the government's own programme.

Britain negotiated the UK-E.U. Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA) in 2021, which included access to a “range of E.U. science and innovation programmes.”

Europe minister Graham Stuart said: “It is disappointing that the E.U. has not facilitated UK participation in the agreed scientific programmes, despite extensive UK engagement on the issue. Now more than ever the UK and the E.U. should be working together to tackle our shared challenges from net zero to global health and energy security."

Dr. Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group of universities, said in a statement: “Despite the delays, securing the UK’s full association to Horizon Europe remains the best outcome for both the UK and the E.U., which is why scientists and researchers on both sides of the channel have consistently called for all parties to deliver what was agreed in the Withdrawal Agreement."

Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, David Lammy, said the government's "reckless and law-breaking approach" to the Northern Ireland Protocol was harming British universities' access to the Horizon scheme.

Chris Summers is a UK-based journalist covering a wide range of national stories, with a particular interest in crime, policing and the law.