UK universities could lose millions of pounds of European Union research money if cuts to the EU’s flagship research and innovation fund are approved, the largest-ever overseas delegation of university leaders has warned.
On a visit to Brussels to lobby against the possible 10 per cent cuts to Horizon 2020, Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge, said that the plans initiated by European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker could severely damage research within universities across the continent.
Under the proposals, €2.7 billion (£1.95 billion) could be diverted from the six-year, €80 billion Horizon 2020 fund into a new European Fund for Strategic Investments for businesses and other institutions to create jobs over the next three years.
But Sir Leszek, who was part of a 50-strong delegation of senior university leaders, told a reception on 13 April that a failure to invest in pure research may actually harm future prosperity within the EU.
“Investment in basic research today leads to economic growth in the future,” he said.
Speaking to Times Higher Education, Sir Leszek said that the cuts would hit pure research in UK universities, which would be unable to borrow money to replace lost funds despite the existence of a loan scheme designed for this purpose.
“There are programmes in Horizon 2020 focused on pure research that cannot get this money back,” he said, adding that “€2.7 billion is a lot to give up from a programme we know works”.
Under the amended budget plans, the European Research Council would lose about €220 million and the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions grants, which support early career researchers, would lose about €200 million, he said.
The cuts, which are backed by the European Commission and member states but opposed by MEPs, would amount to 3 per cent of EU research funds, of which the UK was predicted to receive about £2 billion in the next two years.
It follows a 7 per cent cut in like-for-like research funding under Horizon 2020 compared with the previous six-year framework, university leaders say. That is because, although the total research budget increased by 30 per cent, it must now cover areas previously included in other budgets.
Social sciences and humanities could be disproportionately hit by the cuts, said Sir Ian Diamond, principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Aberdeen, who was among the Brussels delegation.
“Excellence in research is being challenged in every way by these cuts,” said Sir Ian, who was “incredibly worried” about the impact on social sciences and humanities.