British researchers have been warned that they must forge collaborations with institutions in Europe if they want to compete with the best in the world.
John Lawton, head of the Natural Environment Research Council, told a conference that projects must be Europe-wide to achieve the necessary scale and funding. And this will mean that universities find themselves specialising in some areas while cutting down in others.
The conference was organised by the Office of Science and Technology to explain the changes in the European Union's £11 billion Framework Six programme (FP6), which was agreed by the EU's research council in December.
Professor Lawton told UK researchers not to be afraid of Europe and to begin planning.
He said applications should focus on three goals: excellent science, benefits to European society and working towards an integrated European research area.
Other speakers also urged UK universities to start building networks and collaborations with European partners to make the most of available funding.
Alan Wilson, vice-chancellor of Leeds University and chair of the UUK research policies group, advised participants to "think big".
FP6 represents a step change from the previous five. It is designed to work towards the European Research Area proposed by research commissioner Philippe Busquin.
Framework funding makes up only 5 per cent of public money spent on research in Europe. To improve its impact, FP6 focuses funding on seven designated areas. Money will also be spent on improving networking and international collaboration, researcher mobility, opening up national infrastructures, sharing facilities and a science and society programme.
Researchers will apply through networks of excellence and integrated projects, which will deliver new knowledge and address the fragmentation of European research. Smaller projects will be invited under the Stairway of Excellence programme.
Science minister Lord Sainsbury said: "The research community will have to learn a whole set of new skills in engaging with these new programmes.
"Now is the time to start forging contacts with potential partners, formulating research ideas and positioning your organisations so as to be able to make the most of the opportunities on offer."
The commission hopes the framework will be adopted by Parliament in June and begin in autumn.
The seven designated areas are:
- Genomics and biotechnology for health: €2.2 billion (£1.36 billion)
- Information society technologies: €3.6 billion
- Nanotechnologies and nano-sciences: €1.3 billion
- Aeronautics and space: €1.1 billion
- Food quality and safety: €700 million
- Sustainable development, global change and ecosystems: €2.1 billion
- Citizens and governance in a knowledge-based society: €200 million.