No research horizon

It is vital that Scottish researchers/scientists retain access to the EU’s funding programmes for research, not least Horizon Europe, the next seven-year envelope under the 2020-2027 EU Budget (MFF) but talks in Brussels this week went backwards so please write a letter (use your own words if you wish) to your elected representative(s) along the following lines:

Dear MP and MSPs,

I want to express my deep concern about the lack of progress on the UK’s association (the option for non Member States to be part of EU programmes) to key EU funding programmes, especially Horizon Europe, the programme for research and innovation (R&I). Since 2014, Scotland has pulled down over £600 million from the current programme, the vast majority of which is used to maintain Scottish universities at the cutting edge through collaborations with international partners.

A recent statement from over 100 organisations and individuals representing the scientific research community across the UK and Europe stressed how vital it is for the UK to continue to participate fully in Horizon Europe.  It can be viewed here.  The signatories include Universities UK, the Wellcome Trust, the European Universities Association, the Russell Group of Universities (which includes Edinburgh and Glasgow as well as Oxford and Cambridge), and two Nobel prize winners. The Royal Society had made an earlier statement.

The UK has participated from the beginning in the EU R&I programmes, becoming very successful in the blue-sky parts, and enjoying considerable influence while also being a net beneficiary. All this now risks being lost, and in fact this has already started. According to the Royal Society: “Figures suggest the UK is now a less attractive destination for top international science talent – with 35% fewer scientists coming to the UK through key schemes”.  This all comes at a time, in the middle of a pandemic and with so many geopolitical changes and emerging threats, when collaboration has never been more important. 

The government’s research and development roadmap (July 2020) sets out the UK’s vision and ambition for science, research and innovation (July 2020). While this is welcome, it further highlights what we are forfeiting in our role as a superpower while being part of the EU programmes.  A good example is ITER, the world-class fusion experiment. Without associating ourselves with the Euratom research and training programme, we cannot participate in this highly successful international endeavour. In one fell swoop, the UK will be out of the fusion race.

The new EU health programme will be a vital tool in the continuing fight against COVID-19 and in dealing with epidemics in the future. It is unthinkable that the UK would not seek membership of this programme. This programme is the EU’s response to COVID-19, which has had a major impact on medical and healthcare staff, patients and health systems across Europe and the world. EU4Health will provide funding to EU and associated countries, health organisations and NGOs.  We should remember that the UK has already missed three chances to join the EU scheme to bulk-buy PPE; we should not miss the next chance!

The space activities of Horizon Europe are also crucial, as are access to the European satellite navigation programmes, Galileo and European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service, the Copernicus Earth Observation space programme and the EU Space Surveillance and Tracking programme. All of these activities are vital for our security, our safety, and our economic growth.

For the future generation of young UK students, the lack of access to the Erasmus+ programme, which has given such huge intercultural benefit to so many young UK nationals in the past, would be an appalling legacy to leave our children and grandchildren. More generally, we have to remain open to researchers from EU countries if we are to maintain our position at the forefront of the sector.

I sincerely hope that this government still shares the fundamental values of the EU, including: a good capacity in R&I; commitment to a rules-based open market economy; and active promotion of policies to improve the economic and social well-being of citizens.   If they do, it would imply that we need not only association to the EU’s R&I programme, but also other relevant programmes (like EU4Health). We anticipate these associations being underpinned by a strong economic relationship.

It’s high time to focus on what’s best for Britain; and the first step, if we listen to the experts, is: Get these Associations done!