The UK Government will propose slashing the planned budget of the European Union's forthcoming Seventh Framework Programme, which universities had hoped would provide €70 million (£47.5 million) in funding for 2007-13.
In a shift from the stance the UK adopted at June's EU summit, which defended research spending against "wasteful" agricultural subsidies, the Treasury has now said it wants FP7 downsized.
As holder of the EU presidency, the UKis playing honest broker in negotiating Brussels' medium-term budget, but its opposition to the European Commission's research plans is stark.
A Treasury spokesman said: "The UK thought that the Commission's proposals to double annual expenditure on research in FP7 was unrealistic because it was insufficiently focused and failed to provide value at EU level.
Previous experience has also shown that this amount would not be spent.
Other member states agree that spending on research, although important, should be at a more sustainable level. As president, any proposal that we table in time for the December council will take into account the views of all member states."
Eluned Morgan, a member of the European Parliament's Research Committee and a Welsh Labour MEP, said: "It's disappointing to say the least, if the Government is backing off from the commitment that we were hoping for.
"Depending on how large the cut is, we are going to have to look again at the overall structure of the framework programme."
Given that countries such as China, India and the US had much higher research commitments than the EU, she called for national programmes to make up any FP7 cuts.
However, she said: "If we want to realise a major impact in terms of technology and science, we need to pool our resources. This will mean less co-operation between member states, which cannot be a good thing regarding competitiveness with the rest of the world."
The Treasury said that a medium-term budget would be tabled next month.
The European University Association will press for a well-funded FP7 at its conference in Uppsala, Sweden, on October 20-22.