Unlocking Opportunities: The Horizon Europe Programme and the UK’s Return to EU Science Research


September 7, 2023

In the world of science and technology, securing funding is an ongoing concern. Researchers, whether in academia or industry, heavily rely on grants to fund their experiments and innovations. This brings us to the significant topic of grant funding, particularly the EU’s Horizon Europe science funding scheme, valued at an impressive €95.5 billion. For many scientists, the potential loss of this funding source due to the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union was a cause for concern.

The Plan to Rejoin Horizon Europe

Brexit and the UK’s Funding Challenge

The original post-Brexit plan was always to rejoin Horizon Europe. This initiative, one of the world’s largest non-military research funding programmes, encompasses a broad spectrum of research domains, including health, food, technology, pandemic preparedness, and climate research, with a notable 35% of its budget dedicated to climate-related projects. A pivotal feature of Horizon Europe is its emphasis on fostering research collaborations among universities, academic institutions, industry partners, and nations.

Navigating Complex Negotiations

Challenges and Contingency Plans

However, navigating the intricacies of rejoining Horizon Europe amid the Brexit negotiations proved to be a complex task. The prolonged negotiations led the UK government to consider creating its independent science funding mechanism, known as “Pioneer,” as a contingency plan to ensure continued research funding.

Resolution and Integration

UK’s Return to Horizon

Following the resolution of most issues surrounding Northern Ireland in the February 2023 Windsor Framework, negotiations to integrate UK science with Horizon Europe were initiated. Notably, Horizon Europe permits the participation of scientists from “associated” or “third” countries outside the EU, a category that includes nations such as Norway, Iceland, Israel, and New Zealand. Nevertheless, reaching an agreement for the UK to become an associated member was not without its challenges. Central to the negotiations were concerns about the UK’s financial contribution, which, based on GDP calculations, could amount to nearly £7 billion by the end of 2025.

Ensuring Fair Returns

Balancing Investment and Benefit

Every contributing government expects a return on its investment, but if the funding system fails to adequately support a country’s scientists, it can lead to disappointment. This issue became a focal point of contention in the negotiations. The UK expressed concerns about vague clauses in the agreement that could potentially burden it with disproportionate financial obligations without commensurate benefits to its scientists.

Triumph of Collaboration

Reaping the Benefits of Collaboration

Fortunately, these concerns have now been addressed. The UK has officially become an associated country with Horizon Europe, enabling it to participate on equal terms with full member countries. As a result, Pioneer, the independent funding mechanism, is no longer necessary. Additionally, the UK will collaborate on the EU’s Copernicus space project, focusing on satellite-based climate change and natural disaster monitoring. Although the UK will not be joining the Euratom nuclear fusion project, cooperation in the field of fusion research is still a possibility.

Celebrating the UK’s Return

Excitement and Relief in the Scientific Community

The announcement of the UK’s return to Horizon Europe has been met with enthusiasm by the scientific community. But why the excitement when the UK government had plans to fund research independently? The answer lies in the intangible aspects of scientific research, primarily collaboration. Collaborative, cross-border projects have the potential to yield higher-quality science, offering a broader scope for experiments and more reliable results, particularly in fields like medical research. Additionally, collaboration fosters intellectual diversity, leading to fresh insights and constructive criticisms that can enhance scientific theories and innovations.

A Bright Future for UK Science

Looking Ahead

Integration into Horizon Europe allows UK scientists to take a more active leadership role in driving these collaborative projects. Given the abundance of top-tier universities in the UK staffed with world-leading scientists and cutting-edge facilities, the overall quality of these projects is expected to rise, benefitting the EU as well.

Moreover, the resolution of uncertainty surrounding funding availability is a significant relief for UK scientists. Uncertainty can deter talent from pursuing opportunities at UK universities and undermine the nation’s aspirations to become a scientific powerhouse.

Seizing New Opportunities

Application and Impact

As of today, UK scientists can begin applying for Horizon grants, opening doors to a world of research possibilities. It’s a promising step towards advancing scientific knowledge and international cooperation, ensuring that the UK remains at the forefront of groundbreaking discoveries.

As we celebrate the UK’s return to Horizon Europe and its commitment to cutting-edge research, there’s never been a better time for ambitious leaders in the life science and technology sectors. If you’re inspired by the possibilities of collaborative research, innovation, and making a significant impact, we invite you to explore exciting leadership opportunities in organizations at the forefront of scientific advancement.

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Horizon Europe

Published on 07-09-2023