EU research funding must be protected, Russell Group warns

Leaders of the Russell Group of research intensive universities have added their voices to the clamour calling for the European Union’s research and innovation funding to be protected.

February 5, 2013

It comes ahead of a European Council meeting in Brussels on 7 February where heads of state plan to finalise the EU’s budget for 2014 to 2020.

“The UK’s research-intensive universities are acknowledged internationally as beacons of excellence, but critical funding that underpins our excellence could be at risk on Thursday,” said the group in letter to the Financial Times published on 5 February.

In recent days the League of European Research Universities, the European Research Council and companies such as Siemens and Ericsson have also joined in publishing statements calling for the European Commission’s proposed €80 billion (£68.8 billion) budget for the next research funding programme, Horizon 2020, to be approved.  

On a visit to the UK last week the European commissioner for research, innovation and science, Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, warned that research and innovation funding risked getting squeezed out in negotiations because the two other largest parts of the budget, the Common Agricultural Policy and structural funds, garnered much larger support.

“We don’t have champions at the table supporting research and innovation, at a time when several member states, including the UK, are emphasising that this is what we need to invest in to get us out of the crisis and make our economies competitive,” said the commissioner. 

“It would be a catastrophe if the result of the horse trading were that the other two areas of the budget weren’t touched and… all of the cuts were to come from the area that can produce the jobs and the growth,” she added.

Ms Geoghegan-Quinn said she believed the figure on the table for Horizon 2020 at the most recent heads of state meeting had been around €70 billion. A final budget of lower than €74 billion would constitute a reduction on 2013 funding levels, she said.

She called on UK prime minister David Cameron to emulate his predecessor at the time of the last budget negotiations in 2006, Tony Blair, and champion research and innovation.

The UK is the second largest recipient of EU research funding. It also receives by far the most grants from the prestigious ERC, with the universities of Cambridge, Oxford and University College London taking the three top spots by number of ERC grants.

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