‘Colossal relief’ as UK rejoins EU science research scheme Horizon

Article by Kerry Hebden

UK-based scientists and institutions will be able to apply for money from the €95.5bn (US$101bn) Horizon Europe fund from today.

AFTER years of negotiations and uncertainty, the scientific and academic community now have cause to rejoice following news that the UK is to rejoin the EU's flagship scientific research scheme, Horizon. 

In a joint statement published today by the European Commission and the UK government, the two parties called the announcement “a landmark moment for scientific and space collaboration between the EU and the UK”. 

Acknowledging that Horizon was the world’s largest research collaboration programme, UK prime minister Rishi Sunak said that innovation has long been the foundation for prosperity in the UK, and that this is the right deal for the UK, as it unlocks “unparalleled research opportunities”. 

The new bespoke deal means UK researchers will be able to fully participate in the Horizon Europe programme on the same terms as researchers from other associated countries, including leading consortia, from the 2024 Work Programmes and onwards. 

For calls from the 2023 Work Programmes, the European Commission will continue to administer transitional arrangements, and the UK will continue to provide funding under the UK Guarantee. 

British scientists are encouraged to apply now for grants and projects from the €95.5bn (US$101bn) fund, said the government, adding that they can do so “with certainty that the UK will be participating as a fully associated member for the remaining life of the programme to 2027”. 

The UK will also associate to the EU Space Programme, including Copernicus and EU Space Surveillance and Tracking (EUSST), which will allow the country’s earth observation sector to bid for contracts for the first time in three years. 

However, the UK’s involvement in the Galileo and European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS) programmes has come to an end. Galileo is Europe's Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) created by the EU through the European Space Agency, so that bloc was not reliant on the US GPS or the Russian GLONASS systems. 

With involvement now terminated, it means that UK-based businesses, academics, and researchers cannot bid for future EU GNSS contracts and may face difficulty carrying out and completing existing contracts, the government said. 

Similarly, the UK will not be rejoining the EU’s nuclear research alliance – the Euratom programme – and instead will pursue a domestic fusion energy strategy that involves close international collaboration, including with European partners. This will be backed by up to £650m to 2027, and “will ensure UK taxpayer funding is spent in the UK’s best interests”, ministers said. 

Onwards and upwards

The UK’s involvement in Horizon Europe has been a stunted one since the country officially left the EU over two years ago. While the EU agreed to the UK participating in the research funding programme, and the Copernicus earth and space observation programme, on the condition that a contribution of €15bn in funding was made, participation was then blocked by the European Commission over Northern Ireland trade rules.   

In response, last year, the UK government unveiled a £14.6bn alternative to Horizon called the “Pioneer” programme. Although the “Plan B” funding scheme was welcomed by the science and academic communities, it was made clear by researchers that rejoining with Horizon was the preferred scenario.  

Today’s news is therefore likely to result in a "unanimous sigh of colossal relief" from scientists, said Vivienne Stern, chief executive of Universities UK, as it will allow them to work across geographical borders by drawing funding from a common pot. 

"I was looking at one project which is mapping the human brain – a colossal project involving 500 researchers in 16 countries. It's been going on for ten years,” Stern told the BBC. “The scale [of the projects] is impossible through national funding mechanisms."  

Others were equally jubilant. Alistair Henry, UCB’s UK head of research, said it was fantastic news, while IChemE president Nigel Hirst reiterated the importance of collaboration: “Research has already enabled our profession to help address the challenges facing society, and the UK’s renewed association with the Horizon Europe programme ensures that we can, once again, access funding and pool our resources to make even more progress moving forward,” he said. 


Article by Kerry Hebden

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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