How the UK’s Delay in Rejoining the EU Funding Scheme is Damaging Scientific Research?


UK (Parliament Politic Magazine) – Horizon Europe stands as the world’s most extensive and well-funded scientific research funding program. Administered by the European Union (EU), it boasts a staggering budget of €95.5 billion (£83 billion) allocated over seven years, from 2021 to 2027. Before 2020, the United Kingdom enjoyed the status of a full member within the Horizon program, reaping the rewards as a net beneficiary.

This meant that the UK received more funding from the program than it contributed. However, the advent of Brexit brought about a significant change. As the UK finds itself outside the EU, it now faces the task of negotiating to become an associate member of Horizon Europe. While this associate membership offers numerous advantages, it does not encompass all the benefits associated with full membership.

Damaging Uncertainty

Ongoing negotiations between the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom (UK) regarding associate membership have garnered support from the scientific community. However, the current prolonged delay in this process is inflicting substantial harm upon UK science and research.

Research, by its very essence, is a long-term endeavor. In the case of Horizon, the EU initiates calls for proposals, prompting teams of scientists from various institutions across multiple countries to apply for funding. Consequently, scientists from other nations require a clear understanding of the UK’s stance to feel confident about maintaining collaborations with our researchers.

Currently, there is a lack of certainty regarding the UK’s involvement in Horizon Europe and the extent of its participation. As a result, international partners are understandably hesitant to engage in early discussions about potential research collaborations. They share concerns about the UK’s future eligibility and the potential increase in bureaucratic hurdles.

This situation poses a significant challenge as research consortia typically start to take shape well in advance of the final proposal submission, often more than a year in advance. Consequently, we are already witnessing a decline in opportunities for UK-based researchers to collaborate with their EU counterparts. This ultimately diminishes our potential impact in the field of scientific research for the foreseeable future.

Disappearing Advantage

The University of East Anglia experienced a significant decline in its participation in collaborative Horizon proposals, dropping by 63% between 2016 (the year of the EU referendum) and 2022. This decline was accompanied by a staggering 69% decrease in collaborative Horizon funding during the same period.

Collaboration across borders plays a pivotal role in fostering world-class research. Truly exceptional research is often conducted by individuals working together on an international scale. The inclusion of multiple perspectives, complementary expertise, and diverse problem-solving approaches are all essential elements in the realm of research. These factors are crucial for enabling research to offer solutions to the intricate and interdisciplinary challenges faced by populations worldwide.

One of the key advantages of Horizon Europe is its implementation of a unified regulatory structure that applies consistently to all participants. This streamlined approach eliminates unnecessary administrative bureaucracy and complexity, benefiting not only UK universities but also our current and potential collaborators worldwide.

Read More: France and Britain Battle It Out For Europe’s A.I. Crown

What is Plan B?

Everyone should operate within the same research regulatory framework as universities and research institutions across Europe. In the first two years of Horizon Europe, the United Kingdom has slipped to seventh place in terms of participation, being surpassed by Spain, Italy, France, the Netherlands, and Belgium. This decline in ranking has raised concerns among our international research collaborators, who are not fond of uncertainty.

Furthermore, the UK’s long-standing influence on EU science and research is gradually diminishing, despite recent claims by UK ministers about the country’s ambition to become a “science superpower.” For many years, UK universities have held esteemed positions as globally renowned institutions that set the agenda in various fields. However, in recent times, the UK’s leadership in international research projects has significantly decreased. Since 2021, the UK has been barred from leading collaborative Horizon projects.

On April 6, 2023, the UK government unveiled its blueprint for a new and innovative funding scheme for research and innovation, known as “Pioneer” (formerly referred to as “Plan B”). This scheme would be implemented if the UK’s association with Horizon Europe is not successfully negotiated.

Beth Malcolm

Beth Malcolm is Scottish based Journalist at Heriot-Watt University studying French and British Sign Language. She is originally from the north west of England but is living in Edinburgh to complete her studies.