UK could soon abandon £80bn Horizon Europe network, universities warn | Research funding

UK universities have made a final appeal to the European Commission to help save their membership of the Horizon Europe funding network, warning that the UK government is preparing to scrap the £80billion scheme for joint research projects across Europe.

Representatives from Universities UK (UUK) said ministers were “at an advanced stage” of planning alternatives to joining Horizon Europe and other EU science programmes, and called for a urgent meeting between the vice-chancellors and Maroš Šefčovič, the vice-president of the European Commission.

Professor Paul Boyle, Vice-Chancellor of Swansea University, said in a letter to Šefčovič: “Many of our members have reported that their researchers have been forced to leave research consortia working on projects which would have a tangible positive impact on Europe. and global prosperity, such as improved climate data and food security in sub-Saharan Africa.

“The situation is deteriorating every day as the uncertainty drags on.”

Vice-chancellors have grown frustrated with the 17-month delay in finalizing membership associated with Horizon Europe, while the UK government may soon announce a decision to drop membership.

Boyle, writing on behalf of Universities UK, said failing to secure the UK’s place “would be a lose-lose for health, wealth and well-being and would be a disservice to future generations in Europe and beyond”.

UK membership of Horizon Europe was proposed as part of the post-Brexit trade deal struck in December 2020. But the EU has delayed its final decision as the dispute over the Northern Ireland protocol is not resolved.

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A government spokesman said it was “extremely disappointing” that the EU was delaying joining the network for political reasons.

“If the UK is unable to partner soon, and in good time to take full advantage of the opportunities it offers, we will introduce a global alternative to promote global collaboration in science, research and innovation,” the spokesperson said.

While ministers can replace lost funding, without membership, UK academics and institutions can no longer lead projects funded by the EU flagship programme.

The EU has started to inform UK scientists that they cannot hold senior positions in projects while the UK’s status remains uncertain. The Guardian reported last month that a Cambridge University astrophysicist had lost his leading role in a £2.4billion European Space Agency project.

In his role as head of research and innovation at UUK, Boyle wrote: “We believe we are close to the precipice, based on information we have recently received from the UK government. Their view is that the value for money of the UK association weakens every day the UK waits for the arrangement to be confirmed.

“We believe that a decision to abandon the association could take place as early as June. Once the decision to walk away from participation in Horizon Europe is made, we anticipate that it will not be possible to return to the association.

“As a valued European ally, we would like to draw your attention to the gravity of the situation and request a meeting with the UK Vice-Chancellors to further explain how immediate and serious this threat is.”

Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK International, said vital research should not be jeopardized by the dispute over Northern Ireland.

“It is an act of political self-harm to sacrifice European collaboration with the UK. Science should not be used as a political bargaining chip and we are running out of time for everyone to realize this. said Stern.