Concerns remain over UK’s ambition of becoming a science superpower
THE UK Government has announced that it is making an additional £250m (US$346m) in funding available to support UK participation in Horizon Europe, the EU’s 2020–2027 research and innovation funding programme, with a budget of €95.5bn (US$113.81bn).
This follows uncertainty about how the nation would fund its association with the programme, with concerns for the scientific community being exacerbated by cuts to the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy’s budget for research and innovation, and climate efforts. It had been thought that the BEIS core budget was to fund Horizon participation. After the cuts were announced there was widespread outcry from the community and calls for action to ensure the UK’s ability to take part in Horizon.
The £250m will be in addition to the £400m that was earmarked in the UK’s 2020 Spending Review to support Government priorities and drive the development of innovative methods to build new scientific capability. This will now help to pay for participation in Horizon. Participation in the programme will be part of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement with Europe, which provides a basis for preserving the relationship and cooperation between the UK and the EU.
The science and research community has questioned how the remaining cost of participation in Horizon will be funded, which according to conflicting sources could cost as much as £2bn/y. A spokesperson for BEIS said that the exact costs for Horizon Europe will depend on a number of factors, and further details are to come. He added that the UK will pay a “fair and appropriate” share of the programme budget to allow the UK science and research community to “further their collaborations with our European partners”.
The community welcomed the announcement of the new funding but nevertheless the threats posed by the BEIS cuts – including to the UK’s research leadership and international relationships – remain. The cuts were made to BEIS’ Official Development Assistance (ODA) allocation for the financial year, which is used to fund important research including that on tackling climate change.
While the announcement of funding for Horizon has alleviated some of the community’s concerns, it has not irradicated worries.
Paula Mendes, a member of IChemE’s Research and Innovation Community of Practice, said: “The research funding cuts in [ODA] are disappointing. They will hinder the development of innovative research for tackling global health, economic and societal challenges. International research collaborations will suffer, and they are key to address major challenges we are faced with worldwide.
“It is, though, good news that there will be allocated additional funding to support the UK’s association to Horizon Europe. However, if we are to cement UK as a world-leading science superpower, more sustained and long-term investment is needed in R&D. Research funding is critical to advance science and innovation, which have become increasingly interdisciplinary, collaborative and international.”
Dame Ottoline Leyser, CEO of national funding agency UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), said: “This additional funding for research and innovation is most welcome and reaffirms the Government’s commitment to an R&D-led recovery. UKRI will be working hard with Government and the whole research and innovation community to make the most of the significant public investment entrusted to us to build an inclusive and sustainable knowledge economy, now and for the future.”
Julia Buckingham, President of Universities UK (UUK), said: “Given current pressures on public finances this is a significant affirmation of the Government’s belief in research, recognising the pivotal role it plays in the UK’s current and future prosperity, and ensuring UK universities will remain at the forefront of efforts to address the most pressing global challenges.”
UUK represents UK universities through its members, vice-chancellors or principals of universities in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
James Wilsdon, Professor of Research Policy at University of Sheffield, said: “Attention now shifts to the next Spending Review in the autumn, when we’ll hopefully have the next three years in the Government’s R&D Roadmap properly costed and laid out.”
According to BEIS, the additional funding means that it is now investing £14.9bn in research and development in 2021/22 – the highest level in four decades – and that UK researchers will have access to more public funding than ever before.
Furthermore, Government had noted that the UK remains committed to its target of spending 2.4% of gross domestic product on research and development across the UK economy by 2027 and increasing its R&D budget to £22bn.
This article is adapted from an earlier online version.
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