The European University Association has meanwhile called on countries to oppose some of the proposals by the European Commission to divert money from the Horizon 2020 budget – a major source of funding to UK universities and research centres.
The EUA expressed its “strong disappointment” that two components of the EU’s research policy – the European Research Council and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology – would be heavily hit by the move. It stressed that the budget for the EIT would already be reduced this year.
Horizon 2020 is the biggest EU research and innovation programme, worth €80 billion (£61.3 billion) in funding over the next six years.
It aims to drive economic growth by investing in research, but funds from Horizon 2020 will now account for a third of €8 billion to be mobilised for the newly created European Fund for Strategic Investments.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, hoped the EFSI’s €315 billion investment plan would ignite the EU economy. He said: “We are taking an important step towards putting Europeans back into jobs and kick-starting the Union’s economy.”
Academics in the UK were projected to receive £2 billion in the first two years of the Horizon 2020 programme, according to Universities UK, but the plans to divert money away from it have worried research organisations.
Sir Christopher Snowden, president of Universities UK, said: “Cutting the Horizon 2020 budget at this stage would risk harming the performance of the whole European research system.
“Public investment in research and innovation boosts the prosperity and growth potential of the economy.”
He added: “Our competitors outside the EU are investing in, not cutting, research. China’s investment in research, for example, has increased dramatically in recent years, and it now spends a greater proportion of its GDP on research and development than the UK.
“It is by investing in world-leading research and innovation that the EU will help secure growth and respond to changing needs.”
If the proposals are approved, Horizon 2020 will lose €860 million of its planned budget in 2016, €871 million in 2017 and €479 million in 2018.
UK universities currently receive up to 20 per cent of their external research income from the EU.
In the proposal, the European Commission defended the decision, stating: “The reduction of both programmes to finance the guarantee fund is expected to ensure a greater investment in certain areas of their respective mandates than is possible through the existing programmes.”