Science leaders call for potential cap on UK's EU research payments

Senior scientists and sector bodies call for more ‘reasonable’ financial terms that would allow the UK to join Horizon Europe

July 22, 2020

The UK’s financial contributions towards the European Union’s next research funding programme should be “capped, if necessary” to ensure its payments are “reasonable” after Brexit, British and European research leaders have said.

As the EU agreed its next €1.8 trillion (£1.6 trillion) budget for the next seven years, more than 100 organisations and individuals representing the research community across the UK and Europe have signed a joint letter warning that the current proposed terms of association with the €76 billion (£65 billion) Horizon Europe research programme may force the UK to go its own way.

Its signatories include the Wellcome Trust, the Russell Group of research-intensive universities, Nobel laureate Sir Paul Nurse and Carlos Moedas, the former European commissioner for research, science and innovation.

The letter, published on 22 July, explains how “current proposals are likely to create a financial imbalance that would be too much for the UK to reasonably pay, with no limit to how large this imbalance could become”.

Times Higher Education has reported that Universities UK International modelling suggests the UK would make a net contribution of €3.1 billion over seven years if it continued on its present course of winning 12.7 per cent of funding.

But if the UK were to win 8 per cent of funding, its net contribution would rise to €7.6 billion over seven years. Vivienne Stern, the UUKi director, told THE the payments could be a “deal-breaker”, creating a risk that the UK government will “walk away” from the programme.

While the UK must accept it “can no longer be a net beneficiary” of European research funds, explains the letter from senior science figures, the EU’s current proposal for a “‘one-way’ correction mechanism” to ensure this situation is flawed because it “does not protect the UK from inappropriate imbalance in the opposite direction, which is more likely.”

“A multibillion-euro contribution over the lifetime of the programme would make participation very difficult for the UK to justify,” says the letter.

“There needs to be a way of limiting the contribution from the UK, or any other country associating to the programme to ensure this is reasonable,” it adds.

If necessary, the UK’s net contribution could be “capped,” the letter advises.

The letter also calls on negotiators to “come to an agreement quickly”, explaining that “rapid progress is needed in the coming weeks if productive research collaborations are to continue smoothly into 2021, when the Horizon Europe programme begins”.

Referring to a number of “sticking points,” it also recommends the UK “explicitly set aside additional funding for full association for Horizon Europe in its science budget, in the same way that other countries are doing as they begin their association discussions”.

The creation of “reciprocal mobility arrangements” to support the mobility of research staff working on Horizon Europe projects would also help, says the letter, which adds “there has been too little progress towards an agreement”.

“We owe it to future generations in the UK, the EU and beyond to ensure that the new EU-UK relationship best serves them through research,” it concludes.

jack.grove@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

Here's the signed letter opposing this proposal where the UK would pay horizon admin costs, have grant involving UK members capped (~ halving success rate), with same payment no matter how few grants UK might be awarded. Likely, this makes the best UK policy choice to "shop local", as they say: Simply topping-up RCUK by £2 billion a year allowing thousands more existing and high-rated RCUK research projects to be funded each year in place of the distant Horizon, additional application systems, administration requirements etc. https://www.iua.ie/press-releases/securing-a-strong-outcome-for-research-in-the-eu-uk-future-relationship-reaching-an-agreement-on-uk-participation-in-horizon-europe/

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