UK extends Horizon Europe funding guarantee for third time

Stopgap solution will run out in April, when symbolic deadline for resolving a wider EU-UK dispute over Northern Ireland will present itself

December 19, 2022
Source: iStock

The Westminster government has again extended its funding guarantee for Horizon Europe grant winners, while insisting that “time is running out” for full association to the European Union programme. 

It is the third time the government has lengthened the support period, which is designed to minimise the damage caused by UK-based researchers’ partial exclusion from Horizon, a bar the European Commission has tied to UK-EU differences on the Brexit deal’s Northern Ireland protocol. 

It comes after UK science minister George Freeman launched a homegrown alternative, the International Science Partnerships Fund (ISPF), at a Times Higher Education event in Japan, with a starting pot of £119 million.

No resolution to the mutually destructive Horizon spat has been found through the formal legal channels of the Brexit deal, which were activated by the UK in August.

There are hopes the Northern Ireland dispute may be resolved in time for the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement in April 2023, after the latest Horizon guarantee for calls that close on or before 31 March expires. 

With the UK’s economic growth consistently dismal, the current Conservative administration has genuine interests in protecting academic research that can make the country a “science superpower”. In a statement confirming the extension, officials said Westminster “continues to push for association to EU programmes, but time is running out”.  

“The government’s priority is to support the UK’s research and development sector during the ongoing period of uncertainty, and to ensure strong international collaboration opportunities for UK research,” the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said.

“It is vitally important that the UK is able to engage in European Research Council calls and that support is also available for other research collaboration, innovation, and network activities with our key partners on the continent,” said Joanna Burton, policy manager at the Russell Group. “The flow of people and ideas facilitated by Horizon Europe is a key underpinning for our science superpower ambitions and all the benefits these bring.

“We hope the EU will acknowledge that this latest three-month extension shows the UK government and science community remain committed to full association and the benefits it will unlock for all parties.”

After a late September meeting ended without progress on Horizon, the Westminster government further signalled a shift towards domestic alternatives. An EU diplomat who attended the two-hour meeting, at which UK representatives presented the country’s legal, political and practical positions on programme participation, told THE it was “one of the coldest meetings I’ve ever been in”. 

The full details of the aims and partners of the ISPF are due to emerge next year, although Mr Freeman has said that the first phase would “deepen our global research network in Japan”. 

In July, UK Research and Innovation said it had made 202 funding offers under the guarantee scheme, less than a third of the 609 applications it got from UK-based Horizon winners, equivalent to £142 million out of the £348 million requested. 

In November, Westminster announced that £484 million of the country’s unspent in funding allocation for Horizon would be redirected to help the sector. English universities got an extra £100 million in quality-related research funding, while £200 million has been earmarked for UK research infrastructure. 

As well as a post-Brexit bargaining chip, the European Commission considers the programme a premier soft power instrument, launching formal negotiations for Canada to join and cooperate in an “increasingly changing and volatile world”.

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Reader's comments (1)

British researchers are continuing to pay the 'moron premium' inflicted on us in '16.