UK should not recreate EU research programmes ‘line by line’

But long-awaited review does put forward suggestion for ‘flagship’ initiative similar to ERC if UK does not associate to Horizon Europe

November 5, 2019
Source: Getty

The UK should not spend “sizeable levels of public spending” on replicating European research programmes “line by line” if it cannot be part of them after Brexit, a long-awaited review says.

However, one of the authors of the report into future UK support for international research collaboration says that the country would be “mad” not to look at what a UK version of the European Research Council “might look like”.

The review by former University of London vice-chancellor Sir Adrian Smith and Graeme Reid, chair of science and research policy at University College London, was commissioned by the government to look at alternatives for the UK if it faces life outside European Union research programmes after Brexit.

The report has been under wraps for almost four months after being submitted to the government in July but was published just before the dissolution of Parliament for the UK’s general election next month.

Ministers have stressed that after Brexit the UK would like to associate with the EU’s next major research and innovation programme, Horizon Europe, but the country’s participation is far from guaranteed and could depend on wider post-Brexit negotiations.

The review says that if the UK does not associate with Horizon Europe, “we are not convinced that a persuasive case can be made for sizeable levels of public spending on activities that replicate, line by line, EU research and innovation arrangements in the UK”.

“However, we do find compelling arguments for public sector investment to stabilise and protect the assets, infrastructure and capabilities that have been created by previous decades of participation in EU research and innovation,” it adds.

“We also see powerful arguments for additional UK public investment – redirecting funds that previously went to the EU – on wider forms of international collaboration.

“Taken together, funding for stabilisation, protection and wider forms of international collaboration would be at about the same scale as this country has received in the past from participation in EU programmes – around £1.5bn per annum.”

The report goes on to recommend various actions, including “a flagship programme of research fellowships offering large awards over long periods of time” that “would be overseen by a prestigious international faculty of peer reviewers, recruited through national academies in several countries”.

Professor Reid told Times Higher Education that they saw such a programme as taking the best elements of the ERC and making them “bigger” and ”better”.

The ERC was “an elegant design, it is very popular, it is very effective in what it does. We would be mad not to have a think about what a UK version of this might look like,” he said.

The report also sets out the principles on which “distinctive administrative structures” could be set up in the UK to support international collaboration and puts forward four options on how to do this, including a new public funding body to be a “champion” for international research links.

However, the review also advises “against the disruption of existing research and innovation activities to release resources for our recommendations”.

Professor Reid added that another important element of the report was the recommendation on funds for “protecting and stabilising” collaborations in the event that the UK did not associate to Horizon Europe.

“We’ve invested decades and many billions of pounds in our relationships with EU researchers and that has given this country a huge capability that would be at risk if we don’t take steps” to protect it, he said.

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