UK ‘on the brink’ of losing Horizon Europe participation

Russell Group head says window for association is ‘closing fast’ as political row rolls on

五月 16, 2022
Brexit, EU referendum
Source: iStock

The window for the UK to associate to the Horizon Europe research programme is “closing fast” and an agreement could be “snatched away before the summer”, the head of the country’s Russell Group of research-intensive universities has warned.

Tim Bradshaw, the group’s chief executive, said it felt as if the UK and European Union were now “right on the brink” of failing to finalise association to the multibillion-euro scheme.

The Brexit deal agreed in December 2020 allows for the UK to associate to Horizon Europe, but the European Commission has withheld final approval given ongoing disagreements with the UK over the deal’s Northern Ireland protocol.

In remarks due to be delivered this week at a conference to mark the 20th anniversary of the founding of the League of European Research Universities, but released in advance, Dr Bradshaw urged the leaders of continental institutions to make the case to their national governments for the importance of association.

“Working with friends and colleagues from across the EU, the Russell Group pressed hard for association to Horizon Europe to be included in the Brexit deal and for the UK government to set out long-term, ring-fenced funding to support our participation,” he said.

“The fact that these things happened shows that all of our governments recognise the value of R&D and the importance of European partnerships for everyone involved.” 

He said that the UK government – which had been looking at how it could replace Horizon funding in the event of association failing – was right to be “considering ‘Plan B’ options as a fallback”, while Russell Group universities were “ready to work to make a success of any alternative arrangements should they be needed”.

“However, make no mistake: failure to move forward with UK association would be bad news for research and a second best outcome for both the UK and the EU,” he said.

“We all know there is a point at which the UK can no longer hold on and alternative arrangements will need to be put in place. I can tell you today that the window for association is closing, and closing fast. Indeed, it increasingly feels as if we are right on the brink, with association to be snatched away before the summer.”

Many European Research Council grantees are already reported to be making plans to leave the UK, after being told that they must join a university participating in Horizon Europe in order to keep their grants.

Dr Bradshaw said it was a “matter of regret” that a final agreement on association had “become tied up in wider political debates” but added that “it doesn’t have to be this way”.

“The Russell Group has been in constant dialogue with our government and there is a genuine commitment from the science minister [George Freeman] and others to getting association over the line if we possibly can.

“I urge you all to ensure that you are also making the case with your own governments and officials within the commission before it is too late.”



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Reader's comments (2)

Do not wait for government action, the universities of the UK need to work together to establish an agreement themselves. The mistake of involving politicians at all is clearly visible in what is said here about an agreement being held up by the dispute over the NI Protocols. Research funding has absolutely nothing to do with trade agreements... the one should not affect the other & only does in some game-playing politician's mind who sees point-scoring as more important than serving the needs of real people trying to do real jobs (& conduct real research)!
I agree with m.roberston, but I'm not sure one can join Horizon Europe as a university alone or even as a group of universities. One can join as a country. Hence the need for politicians to be involved. Also, "joining" means paying into the Horizon Europe programme. Who would be paying? The univesities directly? When a country is EU member 'joining' the various programmes is pretty much automatic and it comes with the EU membership. Similar agreements are in place for EEA countries like Norway and Switzerland, and other countries who are paying to access the programme. The type of Brexit pursued by the UK government made the UK a Third Country, not an associate country, not an EEA country, nothing. Just a Third Country with essentially no direct access to EU research programmes, single market, and customs union. Until something is done at country level (see, politicians), we do risk losing access to Horizon Europe. It would be interesting to find out if it could possible to join as consortium of universities, for example. Though I imagine Russell Group, Universities Alliance and so on would need to come together. Interesting times...